Most of our training groups ask about tips on gaining the audience’s attention quickly, so it seems like a universal challenge. How important is it really to engage the audience from the beginning? As it turns out, pretty critical. We make decisions about what is interesting or boring fairly quickly, and we tend not to change our mind once we have decided. Audiences need an “aha” moment to really hook them, and the sooner that happens the better. So how can we create this?

‘Aha’ moments have a few defining characteristics:

  • They often challenge our previously held beliefs
  • They are conclusions we make for ourselves – not ones we are told outright
  • They summarize the supporting data we may have already known
  • They are moments of clarity that we seem to find for ourselves

So, how to create this at the start? Think about ways to show, not tell – like with stories or anecdotes that lead us to new insights. Questions are particularly good ways to lead to an aha moment, as they lead the audience to seek an answer for themselves. One of the best way to start is to engage the audience in the grand problem that your talk will solve – “What’s the best way to approach drug development?” Or “How can we improve our performance next year?”.

Other excellent ways to connect with an audience include finding common ground, so that the audience sees the speaker as ‘one of them’ with a shared view of the world (and maybe a little more knowledge!), and stating an unusual or intriguing fact that makes the audience stop and ponder a moment.

For our list of engaging openers ideas to start on the right foot, click here.