According to the website 99 Designs, the average driver has only 5 to 10 seconds to view a billboard and comprehend the message. 

Why should you care?

Because the average audience member has the same attention span as a driver in traffic.

What Does Your Billboard Say?

Whether you’re creating a keynote speech, a quiet success story, or a marketing message, the implication is clear:

You have less than 10 seconds to capture the interest of your audience.

Your opening is the “billboard” of your presentation that will determine if you are able to do this.

But, most people fail to penetrate the noise in the minds of their listeners. They begin with statements like…

“Hi. I’m John Smith. I’m with Acme Corporation and we design the best widgets…. Blah. Blah Blah”

Why Does the Typical Business Opening Fail?

Average speakers have one person in mind when they begin their presentations –– themselves.

Audience members also have one person in mind when they begin listening to that presentation — themselves.

Can you see the problem?

When presenting to an audience it’s critical you have their best interest in mind, especially in your opening.

Break The Audience Out of Their Trance

When you begin to speak to a group of any size, keep in mind the audience is in a type of trance. Their brains are constantly bringing up distracting thoughts and questions centered around their most pressing concerns.

Even as you’re being introduced, they’re asking themselves questions like…

“Am I going to be able to get that report done on time so I don’t get in trouble with the boss?”

“How’s my team going to overcome this problem they just cropped up?”

“Are we having dinner with the Johnston’s tonight or is that Thursday?”

There are countless thoughts running through their minds. If you’re going to penetrate them so they’ll pay attention to your presentation, it’s imperative you immediately say something different that snaps them out of their trance.

If your first words introduce you, your title, and your company, you’re going to fail. The moment they hear you say that there’s a little unconscious voice saying, “I’ve heard this before, sounds like everyone else.” 

Within 5 to 10 seconds, they’re already thinking about something other than your presentation because you didn’t engage their curiosity or answer the most important question in their minds, “Why should I care about what you have to say? How will this help me?”

What SHOULD You Say?

There are multiple ways you can grab the audience’s attention and trigger their curiosity. My four favorites are…

1. An unusual statistic. 

Example: The opening line of this post. The average driver has only 5 to 10 seconds to view a billboard and comprehend the message. 

Since you know I’m a professional speaker and public speaking consultant, what was your first question when you read that statement?

It might’ve been, “What does this have to do with speaking?” Or, “That’s interesting. What does this have to do with me?”

I don’t care what you’re asking yourself as long as you’re engaged and you’re curious to find out why I opened with that statement. If you’re still reading, I’ve succeeded. 

The purpose of the opening is to compel you to keep reading (or listening).

2. A question.

This is a terrific way to engage listeners. It’s vital that the question orients them to your main topic.

EXAMPLE: I could’ve started this article with the question, “How long do you have to capture the attention of your audience so they want to continue to listen?”

This engages your brain and sets you up for the subject of the article.

3. A startling statement

This is an unexpected comment or thought that engages their emotions.

EXAMPLE: “Your presentations are lousy. You’re boring people and it’s gotta stop”

This is a trick opening. If I’m talking to an audience and say those words, their initial belief is, “He’s talking to me.” 

There’s a good possibility they’ll have a negative reaction toward me. And that’s okay. 

My comments aren’t directed at them. They’re the first lines of a conversation of a painful conversation I was part of many years ago.

Those words are meant to jolt the audience out of their trance, trigger an emotional response, and gain their full attention. 

In the next sentence, I say, “Those were the words my boss Joe said to me in 1994.”

With that one sentence, I’ve turned their emotional reaction from annoyance or even anger to empathy for me. And, I’ve oriented them toward may topic of how to create effective presentations.

4. A story

Since I’m a storytelling coach and consultant, this one is most obvious coming from me. A story about a an individual was struggling to give effective speeches is my best way to open my keynote and workshop about public speaking skills.

My first words are the beginning of the story.


“It’s an overcast and unusually cold May afternoon in Indianapolis, Indiana. But, I am sweating profusely, down my forehead, my neck, and my back.”

“It’s August 2009. Patti is sitting at her desk, looking at her spartan office. She can still smell the scent of glazed donuts and coffee from this morning’s meeting.”

Jumping immediately into a story engages your listener because that’s how we’re wired. Stories penetrate thoughts, concerns, and questions of audience members faster than anything else you can say.

Presenting to audiences today is more challenging than ever. Start thinking of them as drivers on a busy highway. You are the billboard and you have 5 to 10 seconds to capture their attention.

If you don’t, they’re going to mentally drive right past you without a second thought and focus on the myriad thoughts clamoring for their attention.

What will your billboard say to capture and keep their interest?

Suggested Resource:

How Can an Airline Pilot Improve the Quality of Your Stories?

Why do pilots use checklists?

To ensure their planes are safe and their flight plans haven’t changed at the last minute. 

Wouldn’t it be great to have a checklist to create our stories?

Fortunately, there is one. It’s called the Storytelling Checklist. 

It’s designed for download so you can immediately begin writing your next story. 

If you’d like to discover more and get your copy of this time-saving story tool, click here. 

What Does Your Billboard Say? How to Capture Your Audience in 10 Seconds or Less ultima modifica: 2022-01-05T08:34:29-05:00 da Michael Davis