Whenever we are called on to give a speech or write a report, we almost always focus on what we’d like to say in the middle of the delivery of our material. What’s interesting is that no matter if we are speaking the words or writing them, it’s the way that we start and the way that we wrap things up that really makes the most lasting impression. That being said, just how do you go about creating an introduction to your material that will (1) capture their attention and (2) make them eager for more? Oh yeah, how do you go about wrapping things up in such a way that you let your audience / reader know that the conclusion is coming?
When talking about opening, middle, and conclusion of your material it is almost impossible to avoid references to food. Whether it’s sandwiches (two pieces of bread and a filling) or a salad / main course / desert, the analogies can run wild. No matter which one you pick, the references are a valid way of reminding you that your opening and closing will be what holds your material together. Here are five tried and true “recipes” for creating openings and closings that will help your audience / readers to remember what you are telling them:
- Challenging Opening Statement: If you use a thought-provoking or intriguing statement to start your material off, you can “hook” your reader’s interest from the get-go. A statement like “Without new products, our company will be forced to close it doors in two years” is guaranteed to catch someone’s attention. If used, then you must reference this statement in your conclusion so that the circle is closed for your reader: “So while the company requires a steady stream of new products, this product is well suited to be included in that group.”
- Startling Statistics: Using a statistic that the audience / reader is not aware of is a great attention grabber. In order to make this an even more powerful tool, cite one or more well known statistics before you unveil the startling statistic. This will serve to increase the audience’s surprise. Example: “Most IT staffers believe reports that say that most large IT projects fail. The truth is that only about 15% of IT projects completely fail.” Once again, the statistic that is discussed in the opening must once again be discussed in your closing.
- Emotionally Appealing Short Story / Anecdote: This can be especially powerful if your audience / readers believe that you are opening up to them. Talking about failures or successes that relate to your main topic are a great way to capture interest and build credibility. As always, remember to come back to this story when you are wrapping things up in your conclusion.
- Question: Asking an open-ended question (key point) at the start of your material is a proven way to capture your audience / reader’s attention. It forces them to think about what you are saying and decide how they would answer it. As always, make sure that you come back and provide an answer to this question in your conclusion.
- Compare or Contrast: The human mind is designed to pick up on differences — it’s probably what kept our ancestors alive longer. Starting your material with a comparison or a contrast between two things that your audience / reader is not aware of will make them want to learn more. Coming back to the comparison / contrast one more time the in the conclusion will help to drive home your main points.
This list of five ways to create a powerful opening / closing is by no means a complete list. However, you now have a good set of ways to frame your material in such a way that you’ve got better odds of making it stick. Please keep in mind that you can also blend these different approaches together to make an even more effective way to deliver your material.