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Aug 28

When the lights come up

By Allison Coffin

From all-free-download.com

From all-free-download.com

Have you ever been to a scientific talk that started, “I’d like to thank the organizers for giving me this opportunity to present my work. I’ll start with an introduction on my topic, then describe our methods…” Honestly, by this time I’ve had enough, and I’m usually checking email, or counting down until the next coffee break.

Does that make me an inattentive audience member? Maybe. But I’m not alone. How do you open your presentation in a memorable way? Here are some options.

  1. Use a memorable statistic
  2. Use a quote
  3. Ask a question
  4. Tell a story

No these aren’t original ideas, but they work, and you can open the same talk in different ways, depending on your audience. In my case, I study hearing loss. In a scientific talk, I’ll start by saying that over 10 million Americans suffer from significant hearing loss. Or, I might start by quoting Helen Keller, who said that blindness cuts you off from things, but deafness separates you from people (I’m paraphrasing here). If I’m talking to a group of students, I start by asking if they’ve ever walked out of a concert with their ears ringing (most have!). When I spoke to the Lion’s Club I started with a story about my grandmother, and some of the funny conversations we had because she couldn’t hear well. In each case, I follow my opening with a discussion about hearing loss (tailored to each audience, of course).

Does the audience always pay rapt attention? If course not – we’re human, and easily distracted by a buzzing phone or the immediate need to locate the perfect snack. Still, starting strong helps – our audience is with us at the beginning, and might stay with us for the rest of the ride.

Want to see examples of great opening lines? Check out some of these resources.

Ginger Public Speaking, with opening lines from TED talks.

More powerful openings, from Sparkol.

Share your favorite opening lines!

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