3 Keys to a Powerful Opening — Even If You “Put Audiences to Sleep”

“I’m a pediatrician and an anesthesiologist, so I put children to sleep for a living. And I’m an academic, so I put audiences to sleep for free.” – Dr. Elliot Krane, TED, March 2011

That’s how Dr. Elliot Krane opened his TED talk earlier this year… and I think it was brilliant! (Watch here.)

Here’s what I liked about it:

1. It was true to him. Could you imagine Zig Ziglar delivering that opener? It wouldn’t fit him. But for Dr. Krane, it works. There’s nothing worse than seeing a speaker trying to be something s/he’s not. You don’t have to be like anyone else. Just be you.

2. The audience was immediately engaged. It was funny — and safe (your opener is no time for risky jokes) — and it played right into what the audience is likely thinking when a physician/academic takes the stage: “Oh, this guy’s gonna be boring.” Never waste an opening moment with a “Hello” or a “Good to be here!” — connect with your audience immediately.

3. The audience knew what was coming. This is more about the statement that followed his opening joke, when he said, “…I want to bring to you the message that…” If you’re familiar with TED, you know you don’t have much time as a speaker — you have to get in and out and deliver “ideas worth sharing” within just a few minutes. That means you can’t give your audience a chance to get lost. They can’t be wondering during half of your talk, “What is the point of this?”

And there you have it. Three tips for a powerful opening.

See, it doesn’t have to be complicated. But it is critically important.

What’s your favorite opening from a speaker? (It could be your own!) Care to share? Leave a comment below!


7 Comments on “3 Keys to a Powerful Opening — Even If You “Put Audiences to Sleep”

Jeff Klein
June 14, 2011 at 10:16 pm

Great post Shawn. Thank you.

Dan Pink has a great opening. He speaks of the key to a great/successful presentation, which are:

and Repetition

That’s Brevity
and Repetition.

It works. And he delivers – relative brevity, levity, and appropriate and effective repetition.

June 15, 2011 at 9:33 am

Hey Jeff – thanks for reading! And that’s great insight from Dan… Brevity, Levity and Repitition… I like it! 🙂

Fred E. Miller
June 19, 2011 at 9:53 am

Formula for a great opening:

Grab their attention.

Tell them what you’re going to tell them.

Thanks for the Post!


Carol Grace Anderson
June 25, 2011 at 3:54 pm

The worst opening: My high school World History teacher opened with, “This is the driest subject you’ll ever sit through.” He was right!

I usually start with: “Life is either a fired-up journey or a total drag. You get to choose. I’ll share a 3-step solution that helps!”

Carol Grace

June 26, 2011 at 10:17 am

Hi Carol! Thanks for sharing. I love your opening – let’s the audience know exactly what the stakes are and where you’re headed.

Bobbe White
July 21, 2011 at 5:59 am

The last line of my introduction reads, “…..and a woman whose hair matches her name…..Bobbe White!” (audience laughs…YAY!)

My opening: That reminds me of the time when a gentlemen introduced me in St. Louis, “Please help me welcommmmmmmeeeeeeee Bobbe WHITEHAIR!” (2nd Laugh…YAY YAY!) I’ve introduced two points when trying to find humor in everyday life: 1) Many times when you hear yourself say, “That reminds me of the time when…..” it might be something funny to you, that you had forgotten. (A rare chance for a mental “do-over” and a chance to capture it in your humor journal.) 2) Laugh and get comfortable with yourself. (It’s no secret that my hair is prematurely white, and many people haven’t connected the obvious…my name. my hair. Both white. (On a side note, we have a melon stand this time of year on Broadway of our town. It’s called, “Tittsworth Melons.” Honestly…you can’t make this stuff up.

August 8, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Hi Bobbe – Thanks for stopping by and commenting… and for giving me a good chuckle about the melon stand! 🙂

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