Whether you believe it or not, the introduction to any presentation is the most important part.
It's the presenter's chance to grab his or her audience members’ attention in an inspiring and compelling way that will make them sit up and pay full attention.
If you don’t get your listeners' attention during the opening few minutes, it’s unlikely they’ll be paying enough attention for anything you say later.
As I researched the most famous speeches of all time for my previous blog, I couldn’t help but notice that most were delivered by men. But of course, women are equally capable of giving a persuasive, inspiring and memorable speech.
That’s why I went out of my way to cite Susan B. Anthony’s words in that post, instead of showing the usual ones from the likes of Lincoln, Kennedy, Churchill, or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Let’s continue the thread of great speakers with a look at some amazing openings in presentations given by well-known women, starting with union activist Mother Jones, dubbed “the most dangerous woman in America” during her time.
In this 1912 presentation in front of striking West Virginia miners, she grabs her audience’s attention immediately, stating her main proposition with strong, decisive language. Apparently, the only reason a transcript of this speech exists is because the mine owners had hired a stenographer, hoping to gain the evidence to charge Jones with inciting dangerous behavior.
Read her powerful words:
“This, my friends, marks, in my estimation, the most remarkable move ever made in the State of West Virginia. It is a day that will mark history in the long ages to come. What is it? It is an uprising of the oppressed against the master class.”
Talk about a powerful introduction! Jones makes her proposition clear in her first lines, in no uncertain terms. Notice how she speaks directly to the audience, referring to them as “my friends” to build rapport. But she also uses the term, “in my estimation,” which shows that she is giving her opinion and takes away any feeling of arrogance from such a strong opening.
Next up, Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg giving a TED talk:
“Let’s start out by admitting ... we’re lucky. We don’t live in the world our mothers lived in, our grandmothers lived in, where career choices for women were so limited.”
Sandberg uses what’s called a hook, right in her first sentence. It grabs your attention. You want to hear more; you want to hear why she thinks we’re lucky. She goes on to tell us in no uncertain terms, then a few sentences later she explains that although we’re lucky -- as women, we still have a problem. Outstanding intro! Watch it here.
Let's move on to Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, giving the commencement address to Harvard in 2008:
“The first thing I would like to say is thank you. Not only has Harvard given me an extraordinary honor, but the weeks of fear and nausea I have endured (here, Rowling has to pause for the laugh) at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight, a win-win situation.”
Another brilliant introduction using humor as the grabber. If you use humor and get a laugh, always make sure to pause like Rowling did -- don’t keep talking over the laughter. Take a look at this video of her presentation, to see how a non-professional speaker (but brilliant writer) nails the opening.
Want to learn more about creating effective presentation introductions and grabbing the audience members' attention? Check out my book, Speaking is an Audience-Centered Sport, available in the BRODY Success Store.