Gaining your audience's attention at the beginning of your presentation is crucial for two reasons: your audience will remember the first things you say (primacy effect), and they will decide to stay engaged with you. Here are 4 ways to start your presentation on the right path for engagement.
1. Pause. There is immense power in a pause, and the beginning of your presentation is the only time when you will have your audience's undivided attention. Take advantage of this the opportunity and don't rush to make your first remarks. Pause for couple of seconds before uttering your first words. This will make your opening statement even more impactful.
2. Tell a Story. We are all hard-wired for stories. Stories engage an audience on an emotional level as stories create meaning and a shared experience for your listeners. Open with a story that relates to the premise or main point in your presentation.
3. Use a Provocative Statistic or Quote. John Medina, author of Brain Rules writes, "... novel stimuli - the unusual, unpredictable, or distinctive - are powerful ways to harness attention... " Find a little known statistic or quote to start the wheels turning in the minds of your audience. They will stay tuned out of curiosity to hear the "how" or "why" that relates to your unique initial remarks.
4. Engage in an Activity. Techniques like body polls are a quick and easy way to engage your audience, suggests Bill Hoogterp, speaking coach and CEO of Blue Planet Training. What's a body poll? With a body poll, you ask your audience to use parts of their body (hands, fingers) to give an answer to a question. For example, if a speaker asks, "On a scale of 1 - 10, how would you rate your eating habits?" The audience would raise their fingers to rate themselves on this scale. You can then use this data to interact with your audience.
Don't waste the beginning of your speech with powerless platitudes. Start strong, because attention spans are short, and second chances at first impressions are rare.