Find the Real Power in Power of Three Openings

Recently a workshop participant challenged me on the technique of using the Power of Three in his opening. To him, it seemed canned, too much like an advertisement. He said “My audience wants me to get right to the point. I have no time for an opening.”

If you have participated in presentation coaching or an Applause workshop, you probably remember hearing that the Power of Three Opening consists of three questions, three statements, or three startling facts. Its purpose is to direct your audience’s attention toward the message you have to share. 

But this objection made me think. How can we be sure our openings are adding real value to our presentations? Here are some ways to be sure your Power of Three Opening is adding real power to your presentations: 

  1. Make sure it is relevant to your content, your audience, your organization's culture, and your own personal style. Don't let someone else put words in your mouth that you are not comfortable with. You must be 100% satisfied with your opening in order to launch your presentation with full confidence. Take time to get it right.
  2. Watch your focus. Will you be more effective taking a positive or a negative position to capture their attention and direct it to your content? Generally, positive is best. But sometimes starting by stating the problem first, you show them you understand their concerns, then you hit them with the solution. 
  3. Be sure it leads directly to your message. Without the message your opening falls flat and seems incomplete. You are building up to….nothing. Make that connection really tight. 
  4. Keep it fresh. If you are bored with your opening, chances are your listeners will be too. Don’t use the exact same opening over and over. Keep it current. Keep it customized to the people before you.
  5. Keep it simple. The opening is there to lead your audience toward your message. If you make it complicated, too long, or introduce too many new ideas or facts, they get lost and can lose interest. When writing your opening, read it out loud to see how it flows, and time it. Using the Power of Three Opening should result in an opening that is only one or two minutes long, including your message.
  6. Use parallel structure. Like a great speech, a good joke, or a compelling story, you can use parallel structure to build anticipation. Start each line the same way. Structure your sentences or questions similarly. If you use questions, have them follow the same structure, so that the answers to each question are the same. This makes it easy for the audience to go where you want them to go, and at the same time, it makes it easier for you to remember.
  7. Make it interactive. Ask for a show of hands. Or ask closed-ended questions that your audience can actually answer. Or ask rhetorical questions that don’t require an answer but do make your listeners think.
  8. Be sure your opening sets the right tone for the presentation. Make it playful, or make it buttoned down. Use technical language or conversational language. Your choice of words and tone help the audience anticipate what kind of presentation they are about to hear.
  9. Rehearse it out loud. Test it one someone. Record it and listen to it. These three lines carry the launch of your presentation on their slender shoulders—each word counts.
  10. Don't preamble too much. Don’t have an opening before the opening. Skip the “thank you for being here” comments, and jump right in to your Power of Three Opening. Your audience may thank you for getting down to business.

To end where we started, the individual who had objected to the Power of Three Opening came back the next morning with a different frame of mind. He said, “I appreciate how it sets the context for what is to come, and it doesn’t take a lot of time after all. I am going to use a series of three startling facts to set up my message, and I know it will have impact with even my impatient listeners.”

In case you would like an example, here is an opening used in the same workshop by a production supervisor who wanted to change the line to be more efficient. He knew everyone wouldn’t be thrilled about the change, so here is how he set it up:

How many of you like change?

How many kind of hate it?

How many of you tend to have a love-hate relationship with change? 

Well I'm here today to let you know that change, even when it's a little uncomfortable, can be very good. We are planning to redesign the line in a way that will save us time, extra steps, and help us to be more safe and efficient in our work. 

Notice what this simple opening does. It’s interactive, it acknowledges different opinions, it focuses us on the positive and connects to the message about change. It also has a slight hint of humor. Notice that the message includes the reasons or benefits for the change. Note the simple, non-technical language, and its no-nonsense cadence. Try saying out loud to see how easily it rolls off your tongue. And have fun creating your own Power of Three Openings.