Openings and Closings

How to get attention and be remembered.

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read

How to Get Attention

So how do you do that without resorting to showing a silly, unrelated comic or telling a joke (which, by the way, is a bad idea, unless you are a naturally funny person!)? For the rest of us, there’re lots of options. You could use a quotation from literature or perhaps a quotation from the newspaper. You could make a comparison or use an analogy. You could tell a story… a personal story from your own life or a story that you read, or perhaps you could have the audience imagine being part of a hypothetical story. You can make a sweeping generalization, or share something surprising. You can show them something, quote statistical research, or ask a question. There are so many creative alternatives.

No matter what method you choose, it’s important to ensure that what you say is directly and closely related to the overall theme or themes of your talk. In fact, the closer the better. It’s also important to communicate the attention getter quickly and concisely—the quicker the better. For example your attention getter for a 20-minute talk shouldn’t take longer than 45 seconds or so.

Excellent Example from Slumdog Millionaire

The Slumdog Millionaire attention getter is excellent for several reasons. First, it introduces two main themes of the movie (cheating and destiny). (By the way, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first answer is “He cheated” and the last answer is “It is written.” Research shows that people usually remember first and last items on a list.) Next, it’s in the form of a question, which is good because it encourages the audience to think, query, and conclude. Finally, because the question follows the quiz show format, it’s concise and introduces the context of the overall story. As far as attention getters go, this is a great example. 

What Is the Residual Message?

So what about the residual message or memorable close? It serves two purposes. First, it directly states what the audience should remember long after the story or presentation has ended. In essence it deposits memorable mental residue into the brains of your audience. The second purpose, which is especially important for presentations, is to signal that the end has come. When the residual message is delivered effectively, the audience will be 100% sure that the talk is over. You won’t have to ask, “Are there any questions?” to let the audience know you’re done.

How to Create a Memorable Close

So, how do you create a memorable close? You can use the same suggestions I mentioned for an opening. For example, you could choose a question for your opening and then close with a quotation or open with an analogy and close with a statistic.

As with the opening, it’s important for your residual message to closely reflect the theme. It needs to be even shorter than your opening, maybe 15 to 20 seconds for most presentations. Finally, if you can come up with only one creative idea, it’s certainly OK to just repeat the opening, but do so in a slightly different way, as they did in Slumdog Millionaire.

Always Incorporate Attention Getters and Residual Messages

So today’s quick and dirty tip is to encourage you to always incorporate attention getters and residual messages, whether you are telling a story at the dinner table or making a formal presentation. In my experience, these elements are often missing. It seems that most people feel they aren’t creative enough or they don’t think they have enough time to develop them. However, having a strong, attention-getting opening and a concise, memorable close can significantly enhance any story and it’s really not that hard to accomplish.

Next week, we'll expand on these ideas to discuss how to effectively tell a story.

So even though this past Saturday I didn’t work on my presentation, it turns out I was working after all—on this podcast. P.S. Did you notice? I used a story for my opening and a story for my close.

This is Lisa B. Marshall. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.

You can find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Oh and if you’d like to support the show, please consider telling others about the show and encourage them to subscribe for free on iTunes. Thanks again for all your support. I sincerely appreciate it.

If you have a question, send email to publicspeaker@quickanddirtytips.com. For information about keynote speeches or workshops, visit lisabmarshall.com.

Speech image courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.

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