Begin the beginning

I am sure that many of you have already witnessed a public talk starting with an opening like:

“Good morning everybody. My name is John Doe, and I am VP product management at Acme Industries Inc. First, I would like to thank the organizers for giving me the opportunity to speak here.  I am really honored to deliver a keynote at this event. And I ‘m also delighted that so many of you have shown up to listen to my presentation…”

As most people decide within the first few seconds of a presentation whether a speaker is worth listening to, be sure that John had already lost the ears of his listeners before he had even projected his first slide! (other real life examples of terrible opening lines on Ethan Rotman’s iSpeakEASY blog…)

A better way to grab the audience’s attention is to intrigue, surprise or provoke them. Here are a few examples of openings that I have used in the past:

  • Intrigue: when I opened a lecture about corporate storytelling with a statement about the number of cooking programs on local TV, this was not at all relevant for my talk. But it helped me to puzzle the audience and to create a link to the nouvelle cuisine metaphor I wanted to use in the rest of my presentation (view my slides on SlideShare)


  • Surprise: using the popular “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” format, I once engaged my audience in an interactive quiz. A great way to wake up the room and to playfully introduce the topic of your talk. (view my presentation on SlideShare)


  • Provoke: speaking at a technology conference, I started with Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale about the Emperor’s New Clothes to pitch a new and hyped innovation. As the room was filled with supporters of the new technology it was certainly a provoking beginning (read my blog post about telling fairy tales)


As speaking coach Carmen Taran is saying in her book “Better Beginnings”:

“When you fill the first unforgiving 30 seconds with something that has impact, edge, and emotion, you earn the right to be heard.”

So, next time you’re delivering a talk, make sure you grab your audience’s attention from the first second onwards.


6 thoughts on “Begin the beginning

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  2. Excellent ! Thanks for posting this. I regularly use a more generic type of opening, namely simply by making a (short, simple) statement that makes everybody wonder “What does he mean…?”.
    “Today, all companies have two big problems…”

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