How should business leaders and senior managers begin a presentation? Grabbing the audience’s attention is essential. ‘Attention’ one of the list of A’s that I use in my speechwriting workshops and in my work as a corporate speechwriter. Securing that attention is more of a challenge than ever these days. According to recent research by the University of Southern California we get around 100,000 words a day been access so we have to work hard to cut through that noise.

There are various ways of attracting and holding the audience’s attention as you walk onto the stage. In my speech writing and presentation workshops, for instance, I usually suggest that people take a moment to stand in silence before they begin so speak. This goes against the grain for most speakers and it takes a bit of courage but it certainly has impact, as the audience settles down and takes on board the visual aspect before you speak.

Generally, though, to start a speech that will grab the audience’s attention, I suggest one of three openings. The first is to ask a question. It might be something as simple as ‘Who has ever been to France?’ Or it might be more challenging, such as ‘Who here has ever been made redundant?’ You can also make it fun – ‘Who has ever had to ask their children to help them with a piece of technology?’

Better still, you can ask a few questions. It’s often an idea to make one question follow another to narrow down a group of people in the audience. You could say: ‘Put your hand up if you’ve ever thought of starting your business?’ Then ‘Keep you hand up if you’ve actually done it.’ This could be followed by ‘Keep your hand up if you’re still doing it.’

As any good corporate speech writer will tell you, another way to start a speech which will attract and hold your audience’s attention for that vital first few moments is to give a striking, disturbing or intriguing fact or statistic. I recently started a speech for a senior executive by telling the audience that if Facebook was a country it would be the second largest in the world. Here’s another one: did you know that Winston Churchill was born in a ladies’ room during a dance? How about this: A ‘jiffy’ is an actual unit of time – it’s 1/100th of a second. Using this striking statistic in a surprising or tangential way to get to your key point, something which you always should do, of course, upfront, also adds to the interest.

Perhaps my favourite way, as a corporate speechwriter, though, is to start with the story. This could be a poignant or amusing anecdote. It could be a case study from your company or organisation. Or, again, it can seem at first have nothing to do with the subject of your presentation but will skilfully segue into the point you want to make. Find a good story, relate it with passion and those telling details that we all love, and I guarantee that you will have your audience’s attention.