Whether a student or a professor, your ability to engage your audience is crucial. It may determine your grade, what your end of semester evaluations look like, or whether or not your startup, well…starts.
Engaging your audience begins before you speak, and then transitions to the opening of your presentation. Your opening often determines just how much of your presentation the audience will “tune in” for.
If the first impression the audience has is “B-O-R-I-N-G” there is little chance of the presentation being a success.
Other students are not your competition, and it's not other professors. It is smartphones, social media, websites, and every other distraction out there.
Drawing your audience into your presentation is not important – it is crucial. Doing it before the perfunctory “thank you for having me” and “Hi, my name is” will work wonders, and there are a number of effective ways you can do this.
Try one of these five openings prior to your next presentation:
Silence – Yes, silence. A pause, whether two seconds or twenty seconds, allows your audience to sit, and quiet down. Most audiences expect a speaker to begin immediately – an extra pause brings all attention right where you should want it – on you.
Ask a question – rhetorical or literal. When someone is posed with a question – whether or not an answer is required – that person intuitively answers. Be careful – if you are asking a literal question of your audience, make it non-threatening and basic. The idea is to draw your audience in, not to alienate anyone.
A Statistic – Not a boring statistic. When presenting your case, look for surprising statistics, a powerful statistic, or a personalized one. Then focus on using this statistic to answer the following question, “Why should my classmate/professor care?”
“Look to your left. Now look to your right. One of your classmates will ___________.”
“In this room, after graduation over 90% of us are going to choose to work in _________. And that decision won’t just matter today, it will matter when we retire, because it means that ______% of us will ______.”
A simple image reflecting the statistic, just sitting on the screen as you begin to address the statistic, can also generate a reaction.
A Statement – A powerful statement, left to hang with a pause, is very, very effective. Inspirational locker room speeches often start this way, as do inspirational political speeches (when they occur). It can work as an opening for a startup or for a business presentation as well.
Again, a clean, clear image supporting the statement, or even a path point with nothing but the statement, can powerfully accentuate your message. I have seen this done very effectively using the tools available from Prezi.
A Quote – Name a topic, and more often than not there is a quote that suits your subject matter perfectly. There are countless apps that can provide a quote in a tight timeframe, and again, there are many tools available via Prezi that help to accentuate (and not overtake) your quote.
These are only five of countless ways to begin your presentation without saying, “Thank you so much for having me, and today I will be talking about ABCDEF….”
Which one will you try?
About the Author: Matt Eventoff, owner of Princeton Public Speaking, is a communication and messaging strategist. He works/has worked with leading multinational organizations, the U.S. Department of State, YPO-WPO (Young Presidents’ Organization - World Presidents' Organization) and has trained clients throughout the United States, Central America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.