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Lyn Roseaman

Toastmasters International


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How to open your presentation with impact


Struggling with that crucial opening to your talk? Lyn Roseaman has a few words of advice.

Whether you are delivering training or pitching for the business – when you stand up and speak you need your opening lines to make an impact. Research has shown that the first 90 seconds of any speech have the most impact and are the most memorable. Therefore thought, time and effort spent on your opening is a worthwhile investment. If you can open your presentation with impact – you have a better chance of capturing and holding the attention of your audience.

So here are some tips to help you have a winning beginning.

Make an impact first - then move on to informing and inspiring

The opening of your training needs to provide them with a compelling reason to park all competing thoughts and give you their full attention. Don’t waste the opening seconds with platitudes. In the words of Darren LaCroix*, “beware death by sameness.”

After the formalities you have a few seconds to reinforce the initial expectations you’ve set. Make a direct, dramatic opening which seizes your audience’s interest: It can be compelling, humorous, shocking, challenging or imaginative. Try using:

  • A rhetorical or a survey question – and cue the response you are looking for. For example, one hand raised in the air tells the audience you’d like a show of hands, not a verbal response
  • Aim for 'you'-focused questions if possible. This gives it a personal, ‘speaking-just-to-me’ feeling, and ‘you’ speaks to one, but includes everyone, e.g. Are you having fun? Questions like ‘have you ever ...?’ create an emotional connection. Avoid ‘how many ...?’ questions – this can be distracting as people search for information in their memories
  • A startling statistic or a bold claim can set the scene
  • Paint a picture. This can start with 'Imagine...' or 'It was 3.30 on a wet Thursday afternoon...' Aim to get your audience visualising a scene in their minds. They will then fill in the detail from their own experiences. This will make it more powerful
  • Anecdotes can also work very well and help build a relationship
  • A recent quotation from a respected industry expert. The expert gives added credibility and, if it’s recent, you sound on the ball

The key is to appeal to their senses – see, hear, feel, smell, taste. This creates emotional resonance and invites the audience in. You can then bring them along on a journey as you continue your speech.

Anchor phrases

The best speakers use anchor phrases; these should encapsulate the feeling and message of your speech. For Martin Luther King it was "I have a dream". When your phrase pops into their mind, the rest of your presentation will be reactivated. And the more rhythmic the better. This is a great way to help people remember the training content you deliver.

Active vs. passive

Always speak in the active, not the passive, voice. Sentences in the active voice are shorter, have energy and directness. Speaking in the ‘here and now’ gives you and your opening message immediacy and presence. It makes it relevant to right now.

Practise and practise some more

Practise your opening until it flows naturally and effortlessly. On the day, ‘own’ the stage by oozing confidence with a smile and solid posture. The stability of your opening stance supports the credibility of you and your message. Look briefly around the audience. This gives you time to calm your nerves and the audience time to settle down, and focus on you. The pause has another benefit too – it will pique their curiosity; they will be eager to hear your opening words.

Used well, an opening that is powerful and has impact, will prevent your audience thinking 'so what?', or 'what’s in it for me?' With a memorable opening, they are with you, wanting to know more. And they will go home remembering what you taught them.

*World Champion of Public Speaking, Toastmasters International

Lyn Roseaman is from Toastmasters International. Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people of all backgrounds become more confident in front of an audience. There are nearly 300 clubs in the UK and Ireland with over 7000 members. To find your local club: Follow @Toastmasters on Twitter. For Toastmasters in the UK:

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Lyn Roseaman


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