The first minute of any speech is the most crucial. When you introduce yourself onstage your challenge is to grab everyone’s attention in the least amount of time. The BIG question is, how do you do that? Hosting some of the world’s biggest events I’ve had to think on my toes about how to engage different types of audience. Today I want to share with you a few of my strategies to help you captivate your audience in 30 seconds or less!
While it might seem obvious, one of the fastest ways to capture anyone’s attention is by being original. Being different doesn’t take hours of brainstorming, but it does take the ability to spot trends and then separate yourself from the rest of the pack. If you can figure out how to contrast your style from the speakers who have presented before you, you will immediately demand attention. For example, if every other speaker introduces themselves with their name and job title, steer away from that approach and instead share your passion or hobbies. If the last 5 people introduce themselves with a rhetorical question,such as “imagine a world..” don’t do that but instead open with a different method. Start building a list of openers you can pick from to begin your talk. Having more options at your fingertips will give you the advantage of being able to be flexible on stage.
You can choose to be original in any number of categories including how you dress or how you use your voice. You can sometimes draw people in by what you DON’T say. There have been many times I’ve paid the most attention to a speaker when they talk a lot slower, using words in a more measured way, and building added suspense by including a number of pauses. Getting your audience engaged is all about being different. You will achieve this originality by listening to your colleagues and then identifying those things that make you stand out from everyone else.
When we get on stage we are ultimately expecting to ignite certain emotions in the audience. While originality might spark attention, curiosity will keep that attention. Curiosity can be sparked in a number of ways including playing little mind games with the audience such as including an unanswered question, or laying out a scenario that doesn’t have a clear end. If you use these techniques effectively you’ll have your audience hooked, waiting with bated breath for you to resolve the scenario.
“Did you know” statements also are effective tools that can serve as a fascinating lead-in statement at the beginning of your talk. The “Two Truths and a Lie” icebreaker is also a technique you can use from the stage to keep your audience tantalized. ‘I’m going to tell you 3 statements, which of these are true and which one is a lie.’ Questions that are both informative while leaving room for mystery build the kind of intrigue that puts the audience’s attention in the palm of your hand.
I want you to know that having a polar opposite position to the status quo is an attention grabber. When I use the word Animosity I don’t intend for you to make enemies but I want you to be comfortable having a contrarian approach. If the 5 people before you have the same viewpoint, then you say ‘I disagree with all of them’ and then state your nuanced position. Anyone who has been passively listening up to this point will immediately pay attention to what YOU have to say. One of the best ways to have this contrarian approach is by spending time exploring the nuances of what you believe. If you can discover positive ways that your perspective can give your audience a refreshing approach to a topic, you will keep their attention for the remainder of your talk.
Sharing a story that is both relevant and relatable is the key to building empathy with your audiences. This is true even for tech talks, financial reviews, and budget overviews. When preparing your talk, spend time thinking about what stories you can include that will resonate with the hearts and minds of your audience. Relatable stories are those that are told with refreshing honesty and transparency. The more relatable your story is, the more you will find the entire audience nodding with you in agreement.
People connect with energy; it’s one of the key factors that can make or break your immediate connection with your audience. The good news is that every speaker can choose what type of vibe they want the room to embrace. If you are a chill Zen person you can expect the audience to come to your energy level. If you are a high energy always smiling kind of person, you can expect your audience to have a similar response to you. One of the ways to hook an audience is to be intentional about the energy you are transmitting. A lot of speakers think that it’s the audiences’ energy that feeds them, but the best speakers know that it is THEIR own energy that feeds the audience. Being proactive about the energy you emit is your superpower to give the room the ambiance you desire. Your communication style also contributes to the energy you convey. Take the time to consider how you communicate with your hands, eyes, and other facial expressions because if you can harness the power of these expressions you can make your audience think ‘That person is fascinating….i need to keep watching.’
The Ball is in YOUR court
Now that you have these 5 basic ingredients to audience engagement the ball is now in your court to combine them in effective ways. You can start this exercise now by getting a pen and paper and answering the following questions.
- The most original things about yourself
- The most contrarian views that you have
- The most curious things about yourself
- The most relatable things about yourself
The next step is to find ways to communicate your answers through engaging stories. When you’ve decided on the best stories that convey your central themes you now need to practice. Practice your opening story more than you think you need to so that it comes across with ease and you can deliver it even if you struggle with nerves.
I Survived a LION Attack
When I’m onstage one of the ways I begin my talks is with a story that combines both originality and curiosity. I often start with
“I was only 16 when I stared death in the face”
Now not a lot of people start with a near death experience so that’s the Originality part of it..and curiosity…WHAT was I staring in the face that was about to kill me is the curiosity piece. So now I’ve got my audience hooked, needing me to resolve the story.
I ended up facing a wild lion when I was living in Zimbabwe and then of course proceeded to fight it with my bare hands, kill it ,and then ate it for dinner. Ok, that’s not how that story ends. But I did face a wild lion. That was my experience. It’s original and has a little bit of curiosity.
When I am doing startup pitches with a completely different audience I go down the empathy route because investors and startups live in different bubbles. Through stories that build empathy, I help them see that the problem I’m solving and the solution I’ve found is relevant to THEM. This is different from the ‘I need your money to feed my business’ approach focussing instead on showing how their investment benefits the investors. Empathy is the route that can best direct someone to this realization and is best achieved through storytelling.
These are 5 possible ways you can grab our attention onstage in 30 seconds or less. These are some of the tools I use but there are many other ways you can create this immediate engagement. The deepest learning outcomes won’t come from me giving you more examples but from you brainstorming ways these apply to you. I would love to see your progress and hear your best attention-grabbing approaches in the comments. If you are up for the challenge, Make a video of your best opener and place a link to your video in the comment section below.
Hooking an audience in 30 seconds or less and maintaining their attention is only important because you have a message the world needs to hear. Improving your ability to combine these strategies in a well delivered talk will have a direct effect on the impact you will have onstage.
Dan Ram ignites the stage as an in-person event and virtual event EMCEE & Speaker at over 100 events a year. He has shared the stage with international luminaries including President Barack Obama, Sir Richard Branson, Reid Hoffman, Nico Rosberg, and Grammy-winning artists and celebrities. Level up your communication skills through his course and mastermind “Speaking Success”. If you want to make this the year that you master your personal brand, check out Dan’s Full Service Personal Branding Agency. His passion is to inspire people with his motto ‘Start Now Start Simple’ in building a future we all want to live in.