A great way to open a talk or presentation is to cite some intriguing statistics that endorse your premise, are out of the ordinary, totally unexpected, or are not well known. This could be something you read in the Wall Street Journal, trade magazines that are unfamiliar to the audience, the annual report, website or newsletter of the company you are addressing, or perhaps you hear in church.
These statistics can be directly related to the organization or industry, or they could be general observations. Anything you can make pertinent to your topic is fair game. It can be deadly serious, like “One in four people will be affected by cancer. Either them directly or a family member.” This made my late friend Cantu’s talk “Laughing all the Way to the Hospital” more of a human interest story than just his experience. It can also be fun and frivolous, like, “Women born since 1960 are likely to have more husbands than children.” This can lead into a talk on changes in society.
A GREAT EXAMPLE I NEVER FORGOT
When I was on a program with Newt Gingrich for YPO (Young Presidents Organization) in Atlanta several years ago, I heard him give one of the best written, best delivered speeches I’ve ever heard. It doesn’t matter what your politics are, he had a great opening. I did not write it down, but I’ve never forgotten it. He walked on stage and said, “If you were born today, you would already owe $186,000 to pay off your share of the national debt.” He was immediately compelling.
What also made it so good was his use of what I call a high I/You ratio. He used “you” and “your” three times in his opening sentence, rather than “I” or “me.” Everyone in that audience sat forward.
A STATISTIC FROM THE AUDIENCE’S WORLD THEY DID NOT KNOW
A couple of years ago, I addressed 350 Seventh Day Adventist pastors. It was for three and a half hours, on the fourth day of their convention. I am not an Adventist and was the only non-preacher on the program. My opening immediately grabbed them… “465 times in the Bible it says, ‘It came to pass;’ it does not say, ‘It came to stay.’ If your sermons are not well structured, artfully crafted, and charismatically delivered they will not come to stay in the hearts, minds and lives of your congregation.”