How Can You Grab Your Audience? Expert Advice

Vivien Leigh grabs the audience from her first moment onscreen in Gone with The Wind. Wikimedia Commons image.
If you don’t grab your audience in the first 30 seconds and hint at more to come, you lose them. This is true in film and in public speaking.

Do you know how to grab your audience? The first thirty seconds of your presentation are critical, like the first page of a book or first seconds of a TV show or film. If you don’t make an impact and hint at more to come, you lose your audience.

Good movies, TV shows, and books, like good speeches, often open with a flavor scene, grabbing attention and positioning the audience for what is to come. Take a classic movie that has been a favorite for eight decades, Gone with the Wind. Neither the book nor the film opens with a discussion of the causes of the Civil War. Both start with Scarlett O’Hara sulking because the impending war might interrupt her social life. Immediately, the character of the frivolous heroine and hints that all hell is about to break loose, making us eager to learn more.

In David Freeman’s screenwriting seminar, he describes 16 ways to make the first three pages of a film or TV script “kick ass.” If they don’t, producers don’t read the rest of the script. If they don’t read it, they don’t buy it, and they don’t make it. If you lose your audience during the opening of your speech, you can’t get them to buy your ideas and use them.

Your opening is your flavor scene, grabbing attention and positioning your audience for what is to come or tricking the audience and thus really capturing their attention. Imagine a film starting with two lovers strolling by a romantic lake. Suddenly, Jason leaps out of the bushes with a huge knife. The audience had thought a romance was in progress, but suddenly they are in the middle of a slasher movie.

When Mike Powell was a senior scientist at Genentech, he grabbed the interest of a Continental Breakfast Club audience by beginning: “Being a scientist is like doing a jigsaw puzzle, in a snow storm – at night – when you don’t have all the pieces – or the picture you are trying to create.” Everyone sat up and paid attention, even those who had been prepared to zone out during a technical presentation.

Relate the first 30 seconds of your speech to the first paragraphs of a book or a scene of a movie. Your opening flavor scene doesn’t have to lead where the audience expects it to, but it must make an impact and it must tie in to what follows.

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More to Help You Grab Your Audience from The Opening of Your Presentation

A few of the many complimentary resources on openings available on

Executive Speech Coach and Hall of Fame Keynote Speaker Patricia Fripp works with those who realize that powerful, persuasive presentation skills give them a competitive edge.