Every speech or presentation should start by grabbing the audience’s attention. If you don’t, then you’re speaking to an empty room. You’ve lost your listeners right out of the gate. Here are a few of my favorite ways to get (and keep) their attention:
A compelling story. Start with an anecdote or story that will underscore your key message. It might be about a trip to Africa or that chess match you lost in 9th grade. Well-told stories are memorable and create an emotional connection with people. (They also trigger mirror neurons, as I explained in my previous blog.)
A moving image. A picture is, in fact, worth a thousand words. Find an image that will draw your listener into your talk. Maybe it’s a family picture of grandma’s garden or a yearbook photo (showing off your 1970s hair style). Or you can download high-resolution photos from sites that offer copyright free images. (I often use Unsplash.)
A killer stat. Share a single fact that will shock your audience. For example, you might tell them that 1 in 6 children in America is food insecure, according to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. That’s hard to believe in a nation as prosperous as ours, right? That's an outrage ... and now your audience is with you.
Other ways to grab the audience’s attention? Ask an actual or rhetorical question. Use a prop like Bill Gates. When he talks about the Gates Foundation’s work on malaria, he opens a jar of mosquitos. (That definitely wakes people up!)
In the end, find a technique that feels right for you and makes sense given the subject matter. Grab your listener’s attention the moment you start speaking and don’t let go until you’re done.