Audiences typically pay attention to and retain what a speaker says at the beginning and at the end of a talk. If you do it right, you have them at hello! The opening and closing count for a lot, so work it …

In the opening, you have the opportunity to condition or prepare your audience for what’s coming; you have a chance to grab their attention and set a filter in their brains for what you will be covering and how you hope they’ll receive it. Use that opportunity. Tell them exactly what you want them to pay attention to and why.

In the closing, you have a chance to reinforce, leave a lasting (positive!) impression, and even offer up a call to action. The closing is arguably even more memorable than the opening simply because it’s at the end. Don’t squander that chance either … and don’t, whatever you do, ask “Any questions?” for your closing (see last week’s blog post!).

The middle – the body of your talk, probably where the meat is – is where your audiences drift, space out, lose focus, check their mental to-do lists. Sad and kind of ironic, because that’s where your topic is covered, the very topic you were invited to address!

You will have them at hello and be more likely to hold their attention in the middle if you give some thought to bookending your talk with a powerful, here-it-is-in-a-nutshell opening and a nice clean finish of a closing that sums it all up so your audience doesn’t have to do all that mental work on their own.

So, here’s my advice … if you have no time to prepare, use your few seconds or minutes to decide how you’re going to open and close, and then wing the middle (ugh, did I just say that?)!

Beth Levine