Okay, speakers and presenters, you have a dilemma!

On the one hand, it is widely expected and perfectly acceptable to open a talk by thanking your hosts and guests for being there and for their participation in whatever meeting or event everyone is gathered to attend. Sometimes this is even laced with welcomes and other platitudes.

On the other hand, it is also widely known that audiences judge a speaker or presenter’s worthiness within the first 10 seconds. Some say 8 seconds, some actually say 3 seconds. Hmmmm. Suffice it to say, audiences judge fairly quickly – in a matter of seconds – whether the person at the front of the room is worth paying attention to and whether they plan to listen attentively or not.

Collision, conundrum, dilemma. What to do? How do you reconcile these two forces? I’m a big advocate for shaking things up and trying something new and different. I’m also a big advocate for yielding to the audience (if there’s even a slight conflict between the speaker’s interests and the audience’s interests, the audience wins hands down!). It’ll be a little bit like moving over and sleeping on the other side of the bed (you know you have a side!), but try and grab your audience’s attention first and thank them later. See if you can save your niceties and pleasantries for the end of your opening section, or for the very end of your remarks, whichever feels more doable. Open instead with a story, a question, a proposition, or a call to action.

Yes, making this change is likely to feel unnatural at first, but it will make you and your talk much more memorable. If for no other reason, you will stand out as the speaker who had a strong, impressive opening!

Beth Levine