What would you do if you won the lottery?
QUESTION: This technique has long been used to let the members of the audience turn suddenly to their own thoughts as to what they might say if called on to answer aloud. Ideally the question should be fresh and land on what people in the audience might wish for. You want to avoid overly used questions such as the one I mentioned in a previous Module, “What would you do if you won the lottery?” Many people are honestly turned off by that question; they have heard it too often with no good luck.
For example, “If I could give you five days and a pocket full of cash and tell you to go anywhere in the world for that week, where would you go and why?” That is a fresh question that we have likely not heard before.
STARTLING STATEMENT.: This technique gets attention by surprise. You want to be careful not to shock or anger the audience, but a good startling opening can draw an audience in.
For example, a student in one class began her speech on cancer with these words, “In this class of 24 students, statistics tell us that four or five of us will have some form of cancer during our lifetimes.” The statement caused all of us to glance around and sense the pain of a small group of us struggling later in life with this dreaded disease.
CLASSIC LINE FROM LITERATURE: This method taps the familiar. We share many bits of information in common with others. Any time you as a speaker can show an audience that you and they share common knowledge, they are drawn to you. For example, if I say, “Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall; All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again,” most people will easily remember that childhood ditty. And we smile and share a common thought.
Offer a classic childhood piece to see if I connect with you. What do you think you and I would know in common?
HISTORICAL QUOTE: This technique can be used with a more educated group who would enjoy hearing a line from John Kennedy or Ronald Reagan or Maya Angelou. To use it indicates that you have a knowledge of history and realize that many great things have been stated in the past. For example, when Pearl Harbor was bombed, President Roosevelt stood in the well of the senate on the following day and said, “December 7th is a day that will live in infamy.” Most of us remember the line. It is a surefire way to gain attention for most Americans.
I share these to reinforce the idea that you need to be connected with the audience really early in the speech, within 30-60 seconds, if you plan to have them with you. These approaches to a good attention-getting opening have been reliable for centuries and I am sure they will give you the audience’s attention as well.