When starting a novel, approaching someone at a reception, presenting an idea in front of a group… famous first words do make a difference.
“This is where the buck stops”. “Don’t ask what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. “Make my day”.
We are all storytellers. The story of our life, our family, our work and our dreams become tangible in the stories we tell.
When you want to convince someone, or when you simply want them to pay attention and become interested in what you say, it is crucial to have your key sentence right.
I once was presented as the new manager of an international fair that was heavily criticized. Some even wanted the event to be canceled. The room was packed with the top players from the sector The atmosphere was polite but tense. I started by saying my name, and after a few introduction words on where I came from, I stopped in mid sentence, took a pause to gather my thoughts and said “My son just started first grade. When the teacher asked him what I did as a job he said ‘Daddy makes’. Not ‘Daddy makes things’. Just Daddy makes. That’s what I’m here to do. So let’s get to work.”
It was the bold but right thing to say. It had the right tone and content. It showed strength and commitment and the wish to act together as a team. It surprised them all as well. Some of the men in that room now have become my friends. Some I see every now and then and there is no tension left. The event became a success; we worked together to get there. They all felt that I was not there to exploit them, to lie to them or to just do something or other. I was there to make. They remember this moment up to this day.
What is your favorite first phrase from a book? here’s mine:
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. – Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967; trans. Gregory Rabassa)
An inspiring top 100 is here. And here are some new original first phrases, to get you going, perhaps.