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Capture Your Listeners

These audience hooks will help you kick off your next speech.

By Richard Ensman

Whether you're making a formal speech, offering a few comments at a business meeting or beginning a sales presentation, the first 30 seconds of your talk are crucial. It's during this time that you'll capture the attention—and interest—of your audience and set the stage for a successful conclusion.

So how do you engage your audience during the first 30 seconds? Here are 20 great ways:

  1. Agenda. Highlight your key points. In other words, tell your audience what you're about to tell them. This is a time-honored opening.

  2. Anecdote. Relate an interesting story that has some bearing on the topic. Caution: Keep it simple and brief!

  3. Anger. Let your audience know what upsets or aggravates you. Your passion will spark your audience's interest and stimulate its curiosity.

  4. Announcement. Do you have an interesting piece of news to share? People often sit on the edges of their seats when hearing something for the first time.

  5. Belief. Recount for your audience an ideal or virtue that motivates you. Then quickly explain how your belief influences the comments you're about to make.

  6. Contrast. Visualize for your audience how the current state of affairs might change if your ideas are followed. This opening works with broad topics, such as social problems, as well as with specific challenges you'd address in a sales call.

  7. Dilemma. Identify with your audience by articulating a frustrating, seemingly unsolvable problem of concern to them.

  8. Display. Open with a moving photograph, a startling graphic or a demonstration of a process or product.

  9. History. Appeal to the memories and traditions of your audience by recounting its origins, your longstanding relationship to the group or some noteworthy past accomplishments.

  10. Imagination. Paint a verbal picture of a resounding accomplishment or success. Let your audience know that you're about to tell them how that picture can come into being.

  11. Involvement. Involve your audience—or even humor them—by inviting them to participate in a physical, hands-on exercise. It might be as simple as a pen-and-paper exercise or a warm-up exercise, whatever helps set the mood for what's to follow.

  12. Joke. Offer a humorous story, a quip, a pun or a yarn. One caution: If you're not comfortable with stand-up humor, avoid this opening.

  13. Picture. Make yourself part of the audience by describing, with a bit of colorful detail, what members of the audience experience each day.

  14. Problem. Speaking with conviction and credibility about problems the group faces each day is another way to build identification with your audience.

  15. Questions. Pose a series of pointed questions to the audience, setting the stage for your presentation. These might be rhetorical questions, designed to get audience members thinking, or they might be real questions directed to individual members.

  16. Recognition. Begin by recognizing the accomplishments of the people in front of you. Alternatively, recount a few simple stories about the people you're speaking to.

  17. Secret. Everyone loves a secret. It doesn't have to be earth shattering, but once you let your audience know that you're going to impart something special to them, they'll listen with rapt attention.

  18. Solution. Let your audience know how to attack a vexing problem. Or let them know that you're going to tell them how to attack it.

  19. Statistics. Numbers can be dry, but they can also symbolize startling facts if they're presented with colorful background.

  20. Thought. A talk or presentation is a highly personal affair. So why not open up with a few random thoughts of your own? Let your audience know what went through your mind as you prepared for your talk, for instance, or the thoughts you pondered on the subject over the last year.

Richard Ensman is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to You may reach him at

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