When you have a great idea to share, you naturally want to gain a listener's attention and win good will in hopes that your idea will be accepted and acted upon. There are a variety of popular techniques promising to help you prepare listeners to receive and respond positively to your message. Some of those techniques work against you; some work for you.
Some attention getters work against us.
The two most often used attention-getting approaches actually work against the speaker:
Asking an engaging question - One of two things happens when you begin your speech by asking a question to get listeners mentally involved: (1) the question is lame and listeners groan inside thinking you're about to give them another run-of-the-mill pitch. Questions like, "How many of you have ever texted while driving," or, "How many of you ate breakfast this morning," are so predictable that listeners recognize them as attention-getting gimmicks; or (2) the question is actually engaging in some degree and listeners start thinking about their answer to your question. A question like, "How many of you have ever stopped to realize that you might become the victim of a serial killer," may give food for thought. Unfortunately, the consequence of having asked a good question is that your listeners are now thinking about a brother-in-law or step mom whom they've always suspected of being a serial killer. They go to the mental spot where they can think about things like this or search their mental data bases for any information they already have about such matters. If you ask a good question, listeners generally won't hear what you have to say next. Though some questions can be very intriguing, the best policy is to leave good questions to the end of your speech.
Telling a joke - We've all heard some great jokes. We love jokes. If they're truly funning, they buy good will for the speaker. However, there are two problems with jokes: (1) most jokes we hear are either tired or not truly funny and we give only a polite snicker as we wait for the speaker to say something important; or (2) the joke is funning but doesn't have anything to do with the speaker's message. We can see that the connection between the joke and the message is contrived. The speaker wanted to tell the joke, so he/she thought up some way to make it apply to the message. We see through the gimmick and forgive the speaker, but we're not impressed. True humor in a speaking setting is usually situational. The humor arises from something that is happening or has just happened and the speaker is quick enough to capitalize on the event.
The best advice is to avoid both questions and jokes in the effort to garner attention and prepare listeners for your message.
Some attention getters work for us.
The most effective attention getters take a piece of support for your message and bring it to the beginning of the speech. It gives listeners a taste of the information that will follow, sort of a preview. Such attention getters could include: (1) a startling statistic or fact, (2) a quote or testimonial on the topic of your speech, or (3) a story that illustrates your thesis.
Number (statistic) - "Seven million people are treated for sports-related injuries each year. That's the combined population of the states of Utah, Idaho, and Nevada. A lot of people."
Example (definition) - Wikipedia defines a serial killer as "an individual who has murdered three or more people over a period of more than a month, with a cooling off
period between the murders, and whose motivation for killing is based on psychological derangement or gratification."
Testimonial (quote) - "Abraham Lincoln once said, "When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad, and that is my religion."
Story (narrative) - "James Chappel was simply walking past a junk yard when two pit bulls escaped the fence and attacked, ending Chappel's life."
Start with one of these varieties of attention getters and you and your listeners will already be on the road toward a life-changing (or at least life-enriching) experience.
In the speech you are preparing now, select what you consider to be the most engaging piece of support for your thesis. Bring it to the beginning. You don't have to use the entire support item. You can go back and tell the rest of the story, give the rest of the numbers, or give a fuller account of the testimonial during your speech. Just give listeners a taste of something substantial to whet their appetites for your thesis which follows immediately.
As you practice, avoid all the lead-in comments. Don't tell us that you've had a cold and aren't feeling well. Don't remind us that you're nervous. Don't confess that you're not a very good speaker, and ask listeners to be nice. Just hit us with your number, testimonial, or story and then give us your thesis. We'll love you for it.