By Graham Shaw, Top tips for your talk: Four ways to captivate an audience in the first 30 seconds. An ‘attention-grabber’ instantly gets people engaged and, by relating it strongly to your message, you can maximise its impact.

Why you should captivate the audience in the first 30 seconds

What you do first greatly influences audience perception.
remember what is first.
People remember what is different.
Attention-grabbers create mental states such as excitement, concern and astonishment.
They can make powerful links into your topic.

Just grabbing attention is not enough; you must link it to your message.

What to do

Here are four excellent attention-grabbers:

1. Give them an intriguing fact or startling statistics. Make people sit up and listen by using one amazing fact or statistic.

Here is the start from David Epstein’s talk at TED2014:

The runner of the 2012 Olympic marathon ran two hours and eight minutes. Had he been racing against the winner of the 1904 Olympic marathon, he would have won by nearly an hour and a half.

Make your fact a jaw-dropper.

Susan Pinkner, at TED2017, used two intriguing facts plus the promise of a third.

Here’s an intriguing fact. In the developed world everywhere, women live an average of six to eight years longer than men do.

In 2015, The Lancet published an article showing that men in rich countries are twice as likely to die as women are at any age.

But there’s one place in the world where men live as long as women.

Using a sequence of related facts or statistics enables you to grab attention, then further build interest.

2. Use a prop

You might choose:

an item of equipment;
to demonstrate something using a prop, maybe a technique or a process;
to pass an item around, such as a sample of the new product.

Ed Boyden used a baby’s nappy, or diaper, at TEDSummit 2016.

He picked up the diaper and explained that the material that they are made from can swell up to 1,000 times in volume.

He then made a link to brain research. He wondered if he could use the same material that is in the diaper to make a brain swell up. If this material could swell as much in the brain as it does in the diaper, then it would enlarge the brain and make it easier to see.

The prop not only grabs attention but is memorable.

3. Make a bold claim

My claim, at TEDxHull, that I could teach the audience to draw cartoons, grabbed their attention. This was because most people in the audience did not think they could draw.

The way you make a claim makes a difference:

‘There is one thing that will make you more influential.’
‘This memory technique will transform your ability to learn.’
‘You can boost your fitness level in just 10 minutes a day.’

In your talks, think about what you could claim at the start that would really grab attention. It does not have to be over-dramatic, but must be something of value to the audience. Phrase your claim in a compelling way.

4. Tell a story

The first line can really hook people:

‘Last year I had an experience that changed my life….’
‘One day I woke up with a great idea….’
‘My daughter started ballet when she was four years old….’

Even though people do not know how the story relates to your talk, they will go with it. They know its purpose will be revealed.

Things to try:

Create your own attention-grabber for an upcoming talk:

1. Write down three ideas to grab attention that you could relate to your talk.
2. Choose the one you feel is best.
3. Plan how you will introduce it.

Extract from The Speaker’s Coach: 60 secrets to make your talk, speech or presentation amazing, published by Pearson, priced £14.99 available on Amazon

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