How many times have you tried to nail that perfect first line? You start. Then stop and delete. Repeat over and over. Never happy, until you finally give up. It could be an essay, an email, or even a presentation.
If you figure out how to get things started, another section makes your life difficult.
How do you finish? You try. Then stop and delete. Repeat over and over. Never happy, until you finally give up.
You’re not alone.
Two of the most difficult parts of any talk are the beginning and the end. I’ve worked with thousands of speakers at this point in my career and they continue to ask question after question around these two parts.
This makes sense because they set the tone. It comes down to primacy and recency. People remember the first thing they hear and the most recent thing they hear.
The audience makes a snap judgment at the very beginning. Keep listening or tune out.
Humans judge a book by its cover.
And it’s not just this fear of failing to capture the audience’s attention that makes the opening the most difficult part for so many speakers. The beginning is when the page is still blank. White space staring at you. The cursor blinking. Daring you to write something.
Then the finish is the most botched part of any speech. The vast majority of people run out of steam, ramble their way to some closing, or end by just saying “so”.
Think back to Mortal Kombat when at the end of the round those final words get said…”Finish him”. That’s what the finish should be like. The signature move that leaves the audience mesmerized, motivated, and moved to action.
I want to give you one of my favorite techniques to pull off the perfect beginning and end to any talk.
The best example I’ve found of this idea comes in the very first episode of Billions. You may know exactly what I’m talking about if you’ve seen the show. The opening scene immediately captures your attention. It’s so over the top and shocking that one of two things will happen. You either turn it off immediately or you want to find out so much more.
This idea comes down to starting something at the beginning, leaving it open for awhile, and ultimately closing the loop at the end.
People hate open loops. They want closure. It’s part of our DNA.
Think back to your favorite books. You finish a chapter but something still needs to be resolved. So you flip the page and start the next chapter. And the next.
It’s why I loved the Redwall series by Brian Jacques growing up. It’s why I flew through every Harry Potter book because I needed to know the answer. It’s why thrillers continue to find so much success as a genre.
The Jack Ryan series on Amazon or 24 back in the day all utilize this open loop framework to keep you hooked.
So how can you best loop your beginning and the end?
This should be fairly obvious to you but let me still break it down. If you start a story as your hook and then don’t finish, you have set up your closing. One of my favorite examples of this technique comes in Fight Club.
You can find this technique used regularly in Keynotes, Ted Talks, and other forms of communication because it works. People love stories.
They create dopamine and oxytocin in the audience. So by starting with the story but leaving it unfinished a number of things occur.
The audience is engaged and hooked. The audience feels a connection to you, the speaker. And the audience will wait around to see how it finishes it up.
- Quote or statistic
These two approaches allow you to start off with something memorable. It’s an easy way to grab the attention of your audience. A quote resonates because you are doing one of two things. Either using a well known quote that will trigger an emotional response or it’s a profound quote that you can then talk about the author to build the purpose behind the talk.
If you want to use a statistic, make sure it’s shocking, surprising, or silly. Yes there are other ways to use a statistic but I wanted to stick with my alliteration. The idea should be that the stat acts like a punch to the audience. It stuns them. Makes them think “whoa, I need to know more.”
So that’s how you can use them to open your talk but that doesn’t answer the question of how to loop it.
These can be a bit more challenging than a story because there isn’t a clear beginning and end. However, it’s still very possible and powerful.
For a quote you can close the loop using a similar quote from another person or another quote from that same person. You can also use a closing where you finish with an inspirational message using the quote to empower the audience moving forward. It will still close the loop because they will have heard the quote at the beginning and then once again at the end.
For a statistic there are multiple ways again to do this well. You can simply show how the earlier statistic now actually makes sense or how you disproved it.
You can also use it to make a bigger point about why the topic matters so much, tying the statistic back into the action steps for the audience to take. Both easy ways to make it work.
These are amazing openings when done right. You need to be comfortable asking the question and letting it sit. The question needs to be bold. You need to deliver it the right way.
These opening questions should feel heavy to the audience. They should actually go into their head and answer. Give them enough time to do it. Think at least 3-5 seconds of silence.
What this allows you to do is seed a thought in the audience’s head without telling it to them. You want them feeling like they came up with the idea. Think of Inception because it’s the perfect example.
Then when you get to your finish you can close it out by doing a couple of different things.
First, you can ask them the question again now that you’ve given your full talk or presentation. If you do this right, the answer has changed in their minds. You have created transformation. That’s the goal of a speaker.
Second, you can recall that earlier question and tell them why you asked it and how you want them to use it going forward.
Last, you can ask a variation of the question. The variation should build off of your talk so the audience clearly understands why you made the change. If you do this right you have taken them on a journey and persuaded the audience to trust and listen to you. This level of credibility will take you far.
I still remember when I got the final moments of the very first episode of Billions. When they finally closed the loop, I was left with my jaw open in shock. Literally jaw open.
I was hooked.
Billions nailed the opening and the finish. You can too when you learn how to loop.
Start strong. Finish even stronger.
If you want to learn more about how you can work with me go here.
Feel free to email me Robbbie@robbiecrab.com
Sign up for my weekly newsletter here