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How can you use your words to grab the attention of your audience right away? The very first words out of your mouth are incredibly important. Let's explore five techniques that exploit the power of what we'll call the cold open. In the cold open, you simply begin by beginning. There is no hemming. There is no hawing. You don't start by saying "welcome" or "thank you" or any trite polite platitude that almost guarantees you'll lose your audience in seconds. What do you do instead? Well, let's take a look at these five cold opening techniques.
Number one, I often like to start a presentation by asking an open-ended question. In this video for example, I started with "How can you use your words to grab the attention of your audience right away?" This question creates a mini mystery. It opens the knowledge gap and makes the audience wonder about how you'll close it. Now, notice I didn't ask a yes or no question. For example I didn't ask "Can you use words to grab the attention of your audience right away?" A close-ended question like that doesn't create any mystery.
The audience can either answer yes or no inside their heads and quit paying attention. Instead, use an open-ended question to create a knowledge gap that you'll later close in your presentation. Second, you can effectively start a presentation with a story or anecdote that illustrates a key point of your presentation. Starting with a story serves two purposes. Number one people really perk up and pay attention whenever somebody begins to tell a story. Further, a well-told story often creates a sense of mystery; your audience will wonder how the content of your presentation will relate to your opening story.
Third you can start your presentation or speech with a bold statement. I might have chosen to start this video by saying "The very first words out of your mouth can make or break your presentation." Now that's a bold statement. It signals confidence, and it also primes the audience to expect to hear how I'll be backing up such a strong assertion. Fourth, tell your audience to imagine something. Tell them to think of a situation, pretend to be somewhere, or imagine someone. For example, imagine you are in a giant auditorium filled with hundreds of people waiting to hear your first words.
Almost instantly, the imagination open makes your audience a part of your presentation. They are actively empathizing and engaging with the content of your speech because they are actually putting themselves in it. And let's face it, the moment somebody tells you to imagine something, it's almost impossible not to. Fifth, you can start with hard evidence, usually in the form of a quote or a documented fact. Starting with hard evidence is a riskier approach than the other four cold opening techniques.
The danger of starting with a quote is that many times it comes across as tired or hackneyed. If you decide to start with a quote, make sure that the content, context, and author offer credibility to your presentation. In a similar vein, starting with a documented fact can also be risky. An obvious fact may not be enough to grab your audience's attention. If you are starting your presentation with a fact, make sure it's a surprising or unexpected fact that defies common knowledge.
Your fact must have enough of a shock value to ensure a powerful opening statement. When you work on developing your next speech or presentation, try this eye-opening exercise. Sit down and write a cold open for the same speech that uses each of these five approaches. Of course you can only use one cold open technique in your final presentation, but going through this simple exercise may help you discover a stronger opening than you previously thought possible.
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