Start strong: 5 tips to capture attention from the beginning

Aimee Rivers Feb 1, 2022 2:05:39 PM

“Oh for a muse of fire…” In the famous opening monologue of Henry the V, Shakespeare not only calls on the attention of his audience, but of divinity itself to “behold the swelling scene.” Clearly, this Renaissance man has something important share.

It’s breathtakingly bold, but also it accomplishes two remarkable things that are critical in starting strong – it arrests attention and sets the scene for an extraordinary event. We are all hooked and the rest is history.

This modern age presents us with challenges that Shakespeare didn’t have to worry about - the overwhelming proliferation of content, shrinking attention spans, and raising expectations for instant gratification. The fact is you’ve got a matter of seconds to say something, show something, or do something that captivates the crowd before they start playing with their phones.

Times may have changed, but the goal remains the same – to hook your audience with a powerful beginning that draws them in. While I can’t teach you how to write like Shakespeare, I can provide you with some practical tips to help you Start Strong:

1. Show your enthusiasm

Business professionals may bring cynicism to the boardroom, but I believe that deep down, they’re waiting to see something of value that excites them. But how do you expect them to be excited if you’re not? Enthusiasm is infectious and expressing your whole-hearted belief in what you are communicating can work wonders in getting your audience on your side.

2. Ignite their imagination

Paint a vivid picture so your audience can see what you’re saying. It can be a positive vision that fills them with hope or it can be a distressing depiction that provokes a need for change. This technique gets the imagination running and rather than merely observing, your audience is now using their own minds to see your point of view.

3. Ask a question

Asking a question can be a sophisticated way to kick-off your presentation. By putting your audience in the hot seat, you activate their thinking and engagement. Questions also have the power of persuasion. They can plant the seeds of your message in the minds of your audience, helping you create powerful focus at the outset.

4. Use Shock

Shock grabs your audience by the gut, provoking an immediate, visceral response. This technique, however, needs to have rhyme or reason. Whether you use shock in a humorous or alarming way, it must connect to the overarching purpose of your presentation. People are much too savvy, and shock for shock’s sake is for hacks.

5. Be Unexpected

Whether we’ll admit it or not, many of us are functioning on automatic pilot most of the time. But when something unexpected happens, it snaps us out of this complacency and makes us alert. That’s why being unexpected is such a good way to start a story. It makes the audience question their perceptions, opening their minds to what is possible, and making them more susceptible to what you are sharing.

We may be off to a good start, but now we’ve got to keep the focus to ensure our message is received. In my next post for Sparkol’s Expert Blog Series, Let Your Voice Be Heard: Storytelling for Business, we’ll discuss the importance of crafting messages and how effective editing can make or break a presentation.

Keep Focus will be published on Tuesday, July 24th 2018. If you would like to receive this series straight to your email inbox, please subscribe here.

To read previous posts in this series, please visit:


Aimee Rivers is the founder of Plumage, a communications consultancy that helps creative companies tell their stories in an authentic way that thrills their clients and supports their business goals. Originally from Los Angeles, she is now based in the UK.