According to research, people will give you 8 seconds to make an impression on them. If you don't they go elsewhere mentally. And if you lose them, it's virtually impossible to get them back.
Connecting with your audience is like dating. It's easier to get someone's attention initially then it is to get it back after they've lost interest. Work on your entire speech – but master your opening.
Here is an acrostic for the word “Master” to help you do that.
M is for “Metaphor”
A great way to start your talk is to use a metaphor. A Metaphor is defined in the dictionary as “a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance.” Quite simply, metaphors relate the known to the unknown. Your story is the unknown. A metaphor is a common known comparison that will bring your story to life in the listener's mind.
Here is a list of common metaphors and their meanings:
“Crabs in a Bucket” metaphor for: Negative people bringing you down.
“Domino Effect” metaphor for: One event causing many.
“Melting Pot” metaphor for: Different types of people coming together.
“Elephant in the Room” metaphor for: The uncomfortable topic that everyone avoids.
“Shooting the Messenger” metaphor for: Blaming the Wrong Person
Metaphor create pictures in our brains. When you can create a picture in the brain of the person you are speaking to, they will remember you much more than the speaker who gives no thoughts to their words.
Action Step: Think of your own unique metaphor to use in a speech.
A is for Anecdote or Story
There is no rule stating that you have to introduce your story with preamble. For a future talk, try starting by jumping right into your story. People have become very predictable. When a speaker hits the stage, many have what I call “Squandered Starts”. They waste time talking about the weather, microphone, lighting, and other topics. It has become so common that many audience members figure that they can go to the bathroom or check their phones at the start of a presentation, because nothing much is going to happen.
Change that assumption. Make your first seconds count.
Action Step: Start a future speech by jumping right into a story that introduces the rest of your talk. Make it a “vignette” type story. A brief story (1-2 minutes) that illustrates a point that leads naturally into the rest of your speech.
S is for Statement
Is there an unexpected statement that you can begin your speech with? Remember, avoiding a “squandered start” does not take much. Simply starting with a statement that gets your audience to think, contemplate or reflect can do just as much as starting in the aforementioned ways. A statement can be a controversial sentence, a startling statistic, or a simple fact. Creativity is key.
Action Step: Think of a statement that you can start a future story or speech with. For example, a goal setting speech could start with something like “5% of people write their goals down. 95% of people never hit their goals. Easy math: 100% of the population represented.” Okay, that may not be the best statement (and it is actually 3 of them), but it's all about getting your audience to think. Come up with your own creative statement and test it on the stage.
T is for Trusted Quote
Nothing is more popular than a good quote. However, a quote can be polarizing as well. Sure, a good quote can be good to throw into your speech, especially to start. But let's face it – quotes are becoming very overused. I am guilty of it at times. Here is how to make sure that people do not roll their eyes at you for using a quote that they have heard a million times. Actually, here are 3 ways:
E is for an Evoking Question
Questions stir the soul. They wake people up. Have you ever had a conversation in which your mind started to drift until the other person asked you something? Questions awake the mind. Can you think of a good question to start your story with?
Action Step: Think of a question to start with that really makes your audience think. It should be related to your story of course, and it should be something unique.
R is for Retrospective
Finally, as an extension of the previous step, can you start with something that gets your audience to reflect? If you use an Evoking Question, use this step to make it a question that gets your listener to think about their own lives. Your story is everybody's story. Use your life to get your audience to reflect on theirs. That is how you relate. That is how you connect.
Action Step: Get your audience to reflect on their lives by starting in a retrospective manner. If you have a story about failure to success, you may ask “Have you ever (had a similar experience to what you are going to talk about)?” It doesn't have to be a question either. For instance, if you want to create a picture in your listener's mind before going into your story, you could say “Imagine (create a scene that resembles your story). That was the situation that I found myself on (transition into your story).” Connect with your audience by making them reflect when you begin.
There it is! 6 steps to M.A.S.T.E.R.ing your opening that will make sure that your impact lasts much longer than the first 8 seconds!
Keep Speaking, Sharing and Serving.
Kwesi Sekou Millington
Speaker, Mentor, Coach
Kwesi Millington helps speakers, presenters and youth to connect with their audiences and master their messages using the power of storytelling in their speeches & presentations. He is a Certified Public Speaking Coach & Youth Mentor.