At a recent personal coaching session I was amused to hear that the main thing the client wanted was to “Startle, Dazzle and Amaze them!” – Oh! Don’t we all!!

She was very happy with the body of her speech; she felt that she had the ideal arguments to convince her audience, she had selected her material carefully to appeal to their interests and believed that her conclusion was a rousing call to arms – but the opening part of the speech was of concern. How could she grab her audience’s attention right at the start to say “Wake up and listen to me – I have something important to say!”

After I had got over the visual picture of a conference audience having to be roused from sleep – I was glad to share some very effective ways of getting them to sit up and listen.

One of my favourite ways is to tell an appropriate story – I do it a lot on this blog, bet you never noticed! Everyone loves stories, and if it is told with energy and enthusiasm it will get everyone’s attention.

We like to hear about other people who suffer the same insecurities as we do – and we indentify with their problems and discomforts without having the finger pointed directly at us. As well, we can share the triumphs with a feeling that if they can, we can. It is personal, can be amusing and can effectively illustrate the point of you speech right at the start.

Of course, it needs to have a link to what you are going to talk about, it needs to be relevant and it needs to be appropriate to your audience. And while humour can be part of it I don’t recommend it should be a joke – humour can be very difficult so let’s not start out on dodgy ground.

Another effective opening gambit that I have found very successful is the startling statement! An outrageous claim or statement of fact that can make your audience sit up. Many years ago I heard a speech that began with the words “I HATE Rhubarb!” The speaker had walked out to the centre stage; put both hands on her hips and declaimed the words in a voice quivering with passion and hatred. We were jolted out of our comfort zone and I can remember to this day the shock I felt when I heard her.

Again it must be relevant to the topic and the aim of the speech; but when carefully chosen, and passionately delivered the startling statement can be a hammer blow to the audience.

Or why not capture their attention with movement, rather than words? Depending on the topic this can be very effective. In a recent presentation about investment, the speaker had three inflated balloons placed in a basket on a small side table. Each one was labelled with a problem. The speaker walked out, and without a word he picked up each balloon, slowly showed the audience the name of the problem and then with a stiletto he burst each one.

He had silently reinforced the message of the presentation – that this company could burst the problem bubbles that were stopping people from investing. Very effective – and very successful.

Movement always grabs people’s attention; we use it deliberately throughout the speech so why not consider it for our opening?

I have heard quotations recommended as an opening strategy – and yes, they can be effective. But it needs to work a little harder than the others I have mentioned. By itself it is often understated. It needs a little pizzazz!

If you are going to open with a quote, it needs to be pertinent; uncommon and presented with passion.

A quote that has no relevance to the topic is useless, and one that is so common that your audience can repeat it with you is more likely to bore them to tears than to startle or amaze! And if is both pertinent and uncommon but presented in a lack lustre way it is hardly going to rouse your audience to animated and fascinated attention.

So here’s the testimonial – I have used all of these strategies to grab my listener’s eager attention in my speeches; and I can guarantee that they have worked for me.

And while your ambition may not be to “Startle, Dazzle and Amaze them” they are still a good way to begin a speech and will at least, wake them up.

Michele @ Trischel

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