How to Write Great Speech Openers

March 22, 2009

TennisAll public speakers should learn to grab their audiences’ attention within the first 30 seconds. One of the best ways to do that is to appeal to their emotions.

And you do this by building anticipation, said Carmen Taran, managing partner of Rexi Media, during a Presentation Camp workshop at the Slideshare.net San Francisco office yesterday.

“We love to anticipate the future,” Taran said, as she listed examples, such as things that are “new” and events that are full of “uncertainty.” As she echoed that word uncertainty, Taran flashed up a presentation slide of a tennis ball teetering on a net.

It’s hard to imagine a more effective visual.

She went on to discuss things to avoid in introductions. Things that can kill a speech opener include presenting a slide of bullet points (i.e. – agenda), lack of enthusiasm, showing a lack of preparation, and of course, self-indulgence.

“It’s much better to make (the opener) about your audience, rather than about you,” she said. “Get your audience involved early.”

Following an engaging 30 second opener, an audience’s attention will start to drift, unless the speaker shifts gears, or adds “variability,” Taran said. That’s because the audience will be craving closure, unless the story takes a turn. This closure (in psychology) is known as the Zeigarnik Effect.
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BTW: Taran is not only an engaging presentation coach and a former United Nations interpreter, but she is also a Phd candidate in psychology, according to her LinkedIn profile.

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