If you work in the training and development field, there may come a time, whether in a training workshop, at a conference or in a meeting, when you’ll be called upon to deliver a polished and professional presentation for an audience.
In a world where we compete with technology and attention spans are short, having solid presentation skills can help you capture your audience’s attention at the start of any talk you need to deliver.
I once read a startling statistic that stated when delivering a speech, the presenter has just 30-60 seconds to grab the audience’s attention before they become mentally restless and begin to lose focus! One of the fundamental components of a strong presentation is capturing your audience’s attention during the introduction or opening of your speech. Delivering a message that’s interesting, engaging, and worthy of listening to means you’ve won half the battle!
I’d like to share four tried and true techniques that will add impact to your presentations:
1. Channel your inner comedian by using humor
The use of tasteful and non-offensive humor can be a very effective attention-grabbing tactic. Surprise your audience with your use of humor by smoothly working it into your presentation rather than announcing that you’re going to tell a joke.
Look for humor in the newspaper, magazines, radio, TV, movies, cartoons, columns, real-life stories, poetry, the classics, and your own personal experiences at home, work, or play.
Use a joke only if it’s in good taste and you can deliver it effectively and naturally. It helps if it comes from your own personal experience and is appropriate for your subject. Try it out on someone else beforehand to make sure.
For example, when former US President, Ronald Regan, was running for office, political pundits suggested that he was too old to compete for the presidency. In a debate against his younger competitor, Regan began his speech by saying "I will not make age an issue in this campaign. I will not exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience." The crowd erupted in laughter and Regan had their attention throughout the debate.
2. Awe your audience with a remarkable statistic
A bold or eye-opening statistic that’s directly related to your topic can make your audience “wake up” and can also enhance the credibility of your message. Remember when using statistics to make certain your information is accurate, up-to-date, and from a credible resource.
I once attended a CPR course where the instructor cited statistics from the American Heart Association. She began her speech by saying “When a person has a cardiac arrest, survival depends on immediately getting CPR from someone nearby. Almost 90 percent of people who suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrests die. CPR, especially if performed in the first few minutes of cardiac arrest, can double or triple a person’s chance of survival.” As a course member, these statistics confirmed that learning CPR was worthwhile and beneficial, and encouraged me to pay attention and take the training more seriously.
3. Quote someone famous
Open your speech by citing the wise and profound words of a famous person your audience considers to be a well-known expert.
When using quotes, be accurate or state up front that you are paraphrasing the quote. Make sure the quote is thought-provoking and relevant to your topic and content.
Imagine delivering a speech on business strategy and citing Henry Ford in your introduction. The founder of the Ford Motor Company once said “A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.” Or, if you wanted to bring a more modern voice to your talk, try quoting former Apple, Inc. CEO, Steve Jobs, who once said, “Quality is more important than quantity. One home run is much better than two doubles.”
4. Engage your audience by asking a rhetorical question
Professional speakers often grab the attention of their audience by asking a rhetorical question. This type of question doesn’t require an actual answer, but rather grabs the attention of the audience members because it sparks an interest, makes them think or plants a seed in their thoughts.
According to Andrew Dlugan, founder and author of Six Minutes, one of the top public speaking and presentation skills websites, using rhetorical questions encourages audience members to be active participants in your speech and invites them to think about issues from a fresh perspective.
For example, if you’re delivering a speech on achieving goals, encourage your audience to think about their behavior. Use a rhetorical question such as: “Setting goals is easy, but achieving them isn’t always as easy. How might you be sabotaging yourself?” As the audience thinks about this question, they’ll likely be more open to your message about how you can help them achieve their goals.
So, make the most of each moment by incorporating these four techniques into the beginning of YOUR talks—your audience will be captivated from your first word!
Enroll in Langevin’s 3-day Professional Presentation Skills workshop to build your skills as a professional presenter!
What do you think about these ideas and do you have other tips that YOU use? Tell me about your experiences in the comments section below!
Jeff has been a course leader with Langevin since 2000. He completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in both Speech Communications and Broadcasting from Western Kentucky University. Before pursuing his passion for training, Jeff worked as a television reporter, flight attendant, fitness instructor, and tour guide. Jeff started his career in training at the daily newspaper in Atlanta. Training seemed to be a natural fit for him since he’s always been a bit of a performer. When at home, you’ll catch Jeff watching a cooking show, recreating a dish he’s eaten abroad, or exploring one of the many great restaurants in the Chicago area. During the summer months, he hits the road to follow the talented drum corps of Drum Corp International—something he’s done since high school!