Wake Up Your Audience with Startling Statements


Bambi vs. Jaws.  No contest on which is deadlier, right? It’s . . . Bambi.  A deer is 20 times more likely to kill you than a shark.  Every year in the United States, deer-car collisions kill more than 200 people.

The above startling statement, especially if accompanied by a visual, could open a presentation on the very practical topic of how to avoid hitting a deer. Or, it could be the opening of a speech about how we worry about things that are unlikely to happen (like getting killed by a shark while swimming in the ocean).

Opening your speech with a startling statement can jolt your audience to attention.  Once you’ve gotten their attention, it’s much easier to keep it!

The most common way to open a speech with a startling statement is to use statistics.  You can find statistics on almost anything online!  However, make sure your statistic is relevant to your topic and accurate. Here’s one reliable source:  http://www.fedstats.gov/.  Using that source, I came up with the following startling statement opening:

“As of 2011, the number of people with undiagnosed diabetes was 7 million. That’s almost as many people as in the states of Minnesota and Iowa put together.”

(As an aside, play with the wording.  I had originally written the these sentences as “As of 2011, there were 7 million people with undiagnosed diabetes.  That’s almost as many people as in the states of Minnesota and Iowa put together.”  Not as powerful–for 2 reasons:  1.  the “shocker” was placed in the middle of the first sentence.  It is much more memorable and dramatic to have at the end of the sentence.  2.  The 2nd sentence refers to the number 7 million of the first sentence.  The second sentence has a more logical, more quickly understood flow with the number in closer proximity).

If you are going to use big numbers, try to give them additional context and to personalize them.  By comparing the number to states, it becomes more than just a big number.  Also, if you were speaking in a different area of the country, you could pick your comparison to be a relevant geographical area.

Startling statements don’t have to involve statistics.  They can just be unexpected.  You possibly can take advantage of a disconnect between how you look/act and what you say.

Here’s an excellent example from one of my favorite blogs on public speaking, Six Minutes Speaking and Presentation Skills : http://sixminutes.dlugan.com/how-to-open-a-speech-opening/

Other, personal examples:

“I like to hit people. Actually, I like to kick them, too.  I’m a second-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.”

“See this jacket?  Three dollars.”  For an opening on a speech about overcoming adversity, in which I am wearing a very nice looking jacket, purchased at a Salvation Army Store during tough times.

What statistics or personal revelations can you use at the start of your presentations to wake up your audience?




How to Engage Your Audience with Questions

Why start and sometimes end your speech with questions?

Questions engage your audience by causing them to think.   Questions can tap into prior knowledge.  Questions can challenge assumptions.  Questions can be used as a bridge to the next segment of your presentation. Questions take your audience from passive listeners to engaged participants.

Here’s the top mistake that some speakers make when asking questions:  they don’t personalize the question. If you want to make your audience members feel as if you are speaking to them individually, use the specific  “you “and “your”  and not the general “anyone” or “anybody”  when you ask questions.

Say, “Do you want to make more money?”  and not,  “Does anyone here want to make more money?

Let’s look at two basic types of questions:  rhetorical and response.

Rhetorical Questions. A rhetorical  question is a thought-provoking question for which you do not actually want a response.  A rhetorical question can arouse curiosity and motivate people to try to answer the question, causing them to pay close attention to what you say next.  So, if I start a speech with “What does it mean to be human?”  I am using the question as a set-up.  I might even follow it with a series of rhetorical questions, “Does it mean . . .? Does it mean . . .? Does it mean . . .?” that I then answer in the course of the speech.   I might even end with a rhetorical question, “So, are you merely going to be a human being or are you going to be human?”

You can also use rhetorical questions as story openers to set the stage for a story.  “Have you ever stood up to give a speech in front of 200 people, looked at the audience and had your mind go completely blank?  That’s what happened to me . . .”

Audience Response Questions.  Here are a few types of questions that require a response:

  1. Raised hands. You can handle this by stating, “Raise your hand if you . . .” Or, “By a show of hands  . . .(and then raise your hand up high to encourage hand raising).  You can also just ask the question, “Have you ever . . . ?” and gesture to the audience with an open hand before you raise your hand.  The open hand appeal invites them to answer and the raised hand models what you want them to do. It helps to nod at the audience while you ask the question.

 2. Audience members answer.  Let’s say you want to have an audience member or two actually answer the question.  This can be risky, especially near the beginning and I don’t suggest it as on opening move if you haven’t already established rapport. Even if you have a good audience connection, make sure it is an easy question and extend your open hand toward the audience as you ask it.  What if nobody answers the question?  Definitely be prepared for that possibility.  You could seed the audience ahead of time with one or two people who will answer.  You could make eye-contact with someone, raise your eyebrows and extend your hand directly at the person and ask him or her specifically to answer (only do this if the person’s body language indicates high engagement).  You could say something funny like, “I’m not going to grade your answer!” which will loosen people up.

3. Audience echo.  This takes guts and practice, but can be extremely memorable when used throughout the speech and at the end.  Let’s say you have a short foundational phrase or even a single word for your speech that you want people to remember.  You can repeat the phrase or word several times as an answer to a question and then have the audience respond with the phrase or word when you ask the question.

For example, if I were giving a speech on sales attitude and I wanted to get the idea across that you can’t dwell on rejection; I might have a foundational word, “Next!”   I would probably tell 3 short stories illustrating 3 common sales situations in which I use the phrase “Next!” At the end of each story, I would have the audience practice saying “Next!” in response to a question related to that story.  At the end, I would wrap up with the same 3 questions, one right after another, gesturing to the audience as a cue to say “Next!”   And then make a concluding call to action using the foundational word/phrase.  “What do you say when you can’t get past the gatekeeper? . . . (audience) Next!  What do you say when someone says “No”? . . . (audience) Next!   What do you say when you want to quit? . . . (audience) Next!  Don’t dwell on the past, but look to the future and say,  . . .“Next!”(audience response)\

For your next presentation, engage your audience with questions!

Extra: Resources for Aspiring Professional Speakers

There are a lot of resources for aspiring professional speakers!  Here are a few of my favorites:

Favorite Professional Development
(mostly Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN area):
1. Toastmasters, a world wide organization dedicated to leadership and communication developmentPowerTalk Toastmasters, a monthly Toastmaster club specifically for Professional and Aspiring Professional Speakers.  I’m a member of this club and Humor Mill Toastmasters.

2. SpeakerBiz
Highly recommended.  I recently graduated from the SpeakerBiz Program
Testimonials Video (yep, I’m in it):

There is still room in the SpeakerBiz 3-day Boot Campin Plymouth, MN in a couple of weeks
3. ProSpeaker Alliance–I’m a member.  (meetings every 3 weeks in Plymouth, MN)
4. National Speakers Association, Minnesota Chapter IPSD program.  I attended both the apprentice and graduate programs (monthly meetings, Oct-May)

Favorite Web Resources:

1.  Craig Valentine’s Blog (he also has weekly 52SpeakingTips –audio with a pdf transcript.).  These focus on speaking skills.

2.  Darrin LaCroix’s 52GetPaidtoSpeakTips.  These tips focus on building a speaking business.

3. Six Minutes: Public Speaking and Presenting.  I can’t say enough about how helpful this resource is.  From tips to analysis to examples, it has it all!

Favorite Book

I’ve looked at several books and there is one that I keep coming back to:

Craig Valentine’sWorld Class Speaking: The Ultimate Guide to Presenting, Marketing and Profiting Like a Champion

What are some of your favorite resources?

How to Start and End Your Speeches

People remember best how you start and how you end!

Do you know what parts of a presentation are best remembered?

The interesting parts, right?  Well, yes! And some parts are remembered better because of their locations in the speech.  Numerous studies have shown (with lists of items) that people recall the items near the end of the list best (the recency effect).  Items near the beginning are remembered second best (the primacy effect).

When it comes to presentations, there is also the first impression.  How well you grab the audience at the start can dictate how engaged they are for the rest of the presentation.

The next several posts will cover the following topics:

1. Opening and closing with questions

2. Opening and closing with startling statements

3. Opening and closing with a quote or poem

4. Opening and closing with a story

5. Opening and closing with a joke

6. 3 P’s of introductions:  Pep, Promise, Path

7. Bookending (tying your ending to your beginning)

8. Complete Conclusions

9. Closing with a call to action

Open your speech to grab your audience’s attention and tease them so they want to hear more.  End your speech powerfully to get your message remembered.

Next week:  opening and closing with questions.



13 Tips for Handling a Question and Answer Session

Do you dread the question and answer (Q&A) session?

To calm your nerves and come across as a confident presenter, try these Q&A session tips at your next presentation:

1. Practice responses
to questions that you think might be asked.  Role play questions.

2. P
lant a question or two in the audience before you start.  You can have a great short answer prepared to the planted question and the planted question can “break-the-ice” for others to ask questions.

3. Let them know near the start! Let the audience know near the beginning of your presentation that there will be a Q&A session.  That way, they may jot down questions to ask and won’t be surprised when you give them the opportunity to ask questions.

4. Ask assumptively. 
Slightly change how you ask for questions.  Instead of “Are there any question?” try asking, “What questions do you have?”  Or, “Who has the first/next question?” Ask for questions in a way that lets the audience know that they should have questions.

5. Answer your own questions.  If you didn’t plant a question or no one asks a question,  try saying something like, “Many people have asked me . . . [a typical question]?” and then answer your own question, followed by, “What questions do you have about [related topic to the question you just answered].”

6. Listen
to the entire question without interrupting the questioner.

7.  Ask for rephrasing not restating of questions you don’t understand.  If you don’t understand the question, don’t ask the questioner to restate the question (Why would you want them to repeat what you didn’t understand?). ask the questioner to rephrase the question.  If you still don’t understand, ask clarifying questions.

8. Repeat the question to the audience to make sure that you have understood it and that the audience members have all heard the question before you answer it.

9.  Diffuse the loaded question.  If you get a loaded questions, such as “Why are you charging so much for your program?” try using “empathize and redirect.”  Empathize with the person, “I can understand your concern about the price.”  Then redirect the question to one that you actually want to answer, “I believe your concern is whether you are getting a good value for the price . . .”  If the person is unsatisfied or becomes hostile, offer to speak with them personally after the presentation.

10. Cut off the long comment.
  Sometimes you get a person who makes a long comment instead of asking a question.  This isn’t always bad.  But, if the person is eating up too much time, cut them off at the end of a sentence (they have to take a breath at some point) saying, “Thank you for that comment.”  Then look away from the person (so as not to encourage the person to keep speaking) and ask, “Next question?”

11. Keep your answers short.  Don’t deliver another speech.

12.  “One last question.”  Keep an eye on the time and make an offer to take “one last question.”

13.  End with a strong concluding statement.  Don’t end lamely by just answering the last question. End with the bang of a final story, an inspirational quote or a strong call to action.

Do you have other suggestions for handling a Q&A session?