In all truthfulness, there are many effective ways to open a talk. But Dale Carnegie was especially fond of opening talks with a story. His reasoning was audiences like to hear a speaker relate narratives from his or her own experience.
In his book How to Develop Self Confidence & Influence People by Public Speaking, he talks about Russell E. Conwell, who delivered his lecture, “Acres of Diamonds,” over six thousand times, and received millions for it. And how does this marvelously popular lecture begin?
In 1870 we went down the Tigris River. We hired a guide at Bagdad to show us Persepolis, Nineveh, and Babylon…
And as simple as that—he is off with a story. That is what hooks the attention of an audience, and that kind of opening is almost foolproof. It can hardly fail. It moves…it marches along…and we follow. We want to know what is going to happen.
Here are opening sentences taken from two stories that appeared in a single issue of The Saturday Evening Post:
1) The sharp crack of a revolver punctuated the silence.
2) An incident, trivial in itself, but not at all trivial in its possible consequences, occurred at the Montview Hotel, Denver, during the first week of July. It so aroused the curiosity of Goebel, the resident manager, that he referred it to Steve Faraday, owner of the Montview and half a dozen other Faraday hotels, when Steve made his regular visit a few days later on his midsummer swing of inspection.
Note that these openings have action. They start something. They arouse your curiosity. You want to read on; you want to know more; you want to find out what it is all about.
Even the unpracticed beginner can usually manage a successful opening if he or she employs the story technique and arouses the audience’s curiosity. Try it in your next talk and see if it doesn’t work for you, too!
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