July 8, 2010
The first 30 seconds of your talk can make or break you. This part of your talk can be referred to as your “hook.” Looking at it as an analogy, all of your audience members are fish (we’ll say bass, maybe a few catfish) swimming aimlessly in the sea. Your objective is to attract them all to the same point and reel them in. With some attractive bait and a well positioned hook, it’s possible to do just that.
No this doesn’t mean start by calling your attendees a bunch of fish and getting a move on with your talk, it means starting with an interesting and compelling introduction that will grab your audience. What does that look like? Well there isn’t one simple formula for creating a great intro, but there are some criteria to go by:
- Out of the ordinary - If you start with something everyone has heard before, they’ll probably tune out immediately and jump to believe that the rest of your talk has nothing new to offer.
- Relevant - Regardless of how much you want your audience’s attention, no intro is worth having if it doesn’t connect to your topic in some way.
- Easy to follow - A complicated math problem is probably not the best way to get your attendees to follow you. You want the beginning of your talk to be the easiest place for everyone to jump on board.
- Tone setting - If you’re giving some dramatic talk about starving children, you probably don’t want to start with a joke. Match the tone of your intro to your topic and save your audience the emotional roller coaster.
- Short - No one likes an intro that drags on and on. Keep it short and to the point.
There are several ways to create intros that match the above criteria. Here’s a few options to draw from for an audience tailored intro:
- Story - Everyone loves a great story, especially when it comes at the beginning of a talk. There are several different types of stories to choose from, each with different benefits depending on your topic.
- True personal story - This will help to establish credibility not only on your topic, but as a speaker. It introduces your personality through an example that relates to your topic, and should hopefully be interesting to follow.
- Fictional personal story - Putting yourself in a hypothetical environment or story that didn’t actually happen (make sure you’re honest and let your audience know) can make for awesome fun and might be easier to tailor specifically to your topic.
- Non-personal story - This could be fictional or nonfictional, serious or light-hearted. Whether you know the story from someone you know or researched it, there are too many interesting non-personal stories to count.
- Analogy - Analogies can be a great way to introduce principles or compare to a real life person or object. The beauty in analogies is that they have the ability to boil complex ideas or topics into the simplest elements in a fun way. You can make analogies up or draw from a large pool already available (ant and grasshopper, frog and pot of boiling water, etc.).
- Quote - Quotes can be funny, serious, to the point, quirky, and challenging. The challenge with quotes is that they can be cliche or boring. But if you make sure the quote lines up with criteria #1 above, it can be a golden opener.
These are just a few ways to crack into the attention of your audience. Get creative and have fun with your first 30 seconds. Hook, line, and sinker!