Do your opening sentences get people to pay attention? When pitching a start-up idea, you need to get to the core innovation right out of the gate. When making any kind of presentation, a counter-intuitive statement, surprising fact or arresting story can get people to put their phones down.

Will your opening sentence get people to pay attention?

Image courtesy of Flickr user batmoo.

“Within the first 8 words, I’ve decided whether or not to keep listening.”

That’s venture capitalist David Wells of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and that’s what he told Allison M. Shapira of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Communication Program about what he’s thinking when he hears a start-up pitch.

In a story in the Boston Globe, Shapira writes: “I asked, ‘What are you looking for in those first 8 words?’ He replied (and I’m paraphrasing), ‘The core innovation. If it’s not in the first 8 words, it’s probably not there. That’s when I either stop listening or interrupt the speaker to ask.’”

Shapira offers two great pieces of advice for creating an attention-getting opening.

The first: “What can you say that really makes people sit up and listen? Maybe it’s a personal story, an unusual quote, or a counter-intuitive statement.”

The second: “I think back to a book I read a few years ago called Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. Their theory of what makes ideas sticky, well, it stuck with me. They said that ideas with traction follow the SUCCESS model: they are Simple, Unusual, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Stories. Any combination of those descriptors would make for a compelling speech opener.”

Other attention getters: An arresting statistic. A surprising fact. A concisely stated problem or dilemma.

So: Go for attention right out of the gate. Remember it. Practice it. Sell it!