“I spent 4,5 hours trying to figure out the perfect opening line and I haven’t gotten any further than ‘Welcome. My name is John and today I will teach you all about bitcoin.’ ”
I seldom have to spend any time convincing people of the importance of a good opening line; your opening will determine how your audience is listening to your message. The more difficult thing for most people to understand is how easy an opening can be. It’s safe to say that 4,5 hours is definitely overthinking it!
Yes, it does matter
When you kick off your presentation with a catchy opening, your audience will listen with their entertainment ears. They’ll be relaxed, expecting it to be fun and captivating. It is easy for them to believe what you say and to bond with you as a speaker and person. In other words, your audience is in the perfect mode for you to influence them.
However, start off with a sentence like John’s and they will be listening with their fact checking ears. Your listeners have their rational brain turned on and ready to think critically. This is a good mode for them to be in to learn new facts but they will also be more likely to question what you say.
The opening question
Many people who are trying to escape John’s opening, resort to the opening question. “Who here has ever stood in line for more than 15 minutes?” “Who here owns a car?”
You know what, opening with a question is not bad! It really has its perks: it can help you calm down when you’re nervous by making it feel more like a conversation than a presentation and it will get your audience to be more active rather than passive.
The downside to it, in my opinion, is that it’s done so often. Yes, cliches are cliches for a reason and all that but if you can build up the courage, go for something else next time.
We tell stories all the time. We might not be aware of it and granted, some are better at it than others, but we do! You tell your wife about this weird dude in the office. She tells you about that awkward moment she at Starbucks. Honestly, presentations are not that different. It’s just a conversation in which it’s unacceptable to interrupt you. Perfect! So start off your story in a way you would start off any old conversation. “You won’t believe what my boss said today!” “Last weekend I was talking to my brother about parenthood.” “Let me tell you what happened yesterday when I was doing my laundry!”
These types of sentences are a promise of a story so your audience’s entertainment ears will be wide open.
The catchy phrase
And then there are the catchy phrases. Something the audience doesn’t expect to hear. Often a bold statement that amuses them, intrigues them or even upsets them. You could make a statement that contradicts the general opinion: “Donald Trump is the best president the US has seen in over 100 years.” (He’s not… really not.) You could use a powerful quote or even an absurd statement: “I know we all believe cucumbers to be an inferior produce.” Your audience will certainly want the explanation for this and their entertainment ears will be on!
Just to be clear, I’m not saying that it is bad when your audience is listening through their fact checking ears. Especially when your audience exists of peers, people who can talk about your subject on the same level as you do, you want them to listen in a critical manner. Nonetheless, it is really effective to ease them into your presentation with an entertaining opening to help them connect with you as a speaker. The facts come later. The facts always come later.