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?