Whether you have to speak before 1,000 people or just a team of your colleagues, it has become increasingly challenging to capture an audience's attention. As you compete with smartphone notifications and digital task lists, the first few seconds of your presentation will determine whether an audience continues listening or walks away--figuratively or literally.
So how do you get them hooked?
It's vital to perfect your introduction. Typically speaking, a good introduction should accomplish three goals:
1. Get the attention of the audience
2. Clearly identify your subject
3. Tell the audience why this is important to them
Following this structure will get your audience listening; more important, it will keep them listening. Additionally, it sets the stage to help them remember as much of your message as possible.
When teaching others how to do this properly, I like to use a popular TED talk by Pamela Meyer, author of the best-selling book Liespotting. Meyer has been called "the nation's best expert on lying." Her TED presentation "How to Spot a Liar" has been viewed almost 12 million times.
When you watch the video, notice how Meyer accomplishes all three goals of an effective introduction--all in less than a minute.
1. She gets the audience's attention.
There are various ways to achieve this first goal. Meyer chooses to make a shocking statement (with a bit of humor mixed in):
"OK, now I don't want to alarm anybody in this room, but it's just come to my attention that the person to your right is a liar."
OK, Pam; you've got us. But wait! There's more ...
"Also, the person to your left is a liar. Also the person sitting in your very seat is a liar. We're all liars."
Now, depending on your personal perspective, you immediately agree or disagree with Meyer. But she's got your attention, and you're eager to hear what she'll say next. (If you're interested in other methods to hook your audience, check out my previous post: How to Keep Your Audience From Tuning Out.)
2. She clearly identifies the subject.
Next, Meyer sets some structure. Her aim is that we will commit to hearing the rest of the presentation:
"What I'm going to do today is I'm going to show you what the research says about why we're all liars, how you can become a liespotter, and why you might want to go the extra mile and go from liespotting to truth seeking, and ultimately to trust building."
Meyer lets us know what to expect. She breaks down the presentation into sections, and lets us know what we can get out of it.
At the same time, she accomplishes goal number three:
3. She tells the audience why it's important to them.
Research can be boring. But in that single sentence, Meyer tells us why we want to continue listening: She'll show us how to identify those who are lying to us, and how we can take that to the next level.
There you go. Meyer manages to accomplish all three goals of a perfect introduction. And she does it all--check the clock--in less than 60 seconds.
Ready to try it yourself? You want to incorporate your own style and be as natural as possible. But the key is to focus on those three goals.
With a little practice, your audience will be active listeners to whatever you have to say--every single time.