How to Alienate Your Audience With Your Opening Words
When you start your speech, what are the first words out of your mouth?
Typically, people say something like, “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a pleasure to be here. Isn’t this great weather? What a great crowd.”
Do you say this, or some variation of those words?
If you’re opening your speeches or stories this way, I encourage you to heed these two words of advice:
Why such an over-the-top reaction?
Because opening with boring platitudes quickly makes you forgettable. When you open your talk this way, you sound like every other presenter.
To quote the great speaker and speech coach Patricia Fripp, “Audiences will forgive almost anything except being boring. Starting your presentation with ‘thank you’ or a discussion of the weather is dull and deadly boring.”
Don’t start like every other speaker. Open with a BANG!
Research has shown that you have less than 30 seconds to make an impression on an audience. In fact, before you ever walk to the front of a room, you’re being judged—your appearance, the expression on your face, how confident you appear, etc.
Is this fair??
But it’s a fact, and it’s one you must be aware of if you want to make a Stand OUT! first impression.
What can you do to quickly make an impact?
A story is an excellent way to start.
To set up your story, the following options can be effective:
1) Recite a quote.
2) Ask a question.
3) Make a startling statement.
4) Introduce a statistic.
The key is that these openings must be relevant to your main point. Properly structured, they will also set the context for your opening story.
Far too often, speakers recite quotes or make statements that are irrelevant to the overall presentation. These may get a quick nod of agreement or a laugh, but they’ll be quickly forgotten.
The Most Effective Method to Open Your Speech
My favorite method for opening a presentation is the most rarely used, yet extremely effective. It is:
Why would you use silence to start a presentation?
Don’t you want to go up there full of energy and “come out with a BANG”?
Yes, you do. However, think about an audience when you stand at the front of a room. Most likely, they’re shifting in their seats, rustling papers, or thinking about what the last speaker had to say. There are dozens of other thoughts that could be running through their heads. Chances are, they’re not totally focused on you when you first stand at the front of a room.
When you first get to the front of the room, stand in place quietly, confidently, and with a smile on your face. Make eye contact with as many people as possible.
This will get their attention. Do this for five to seven seconds. You’ll feel your audience attention focus on you. It’s a powerful feeling.
Beware the Challenge of Opening This Way
WARNING: The first time you try to do this, you won’t last two seconds! You’ll feel uncomfortable, scared, and maybe even stupid. Ask me how I know this.
My first time, I felt all of those emotions. But, I stood for one or two seconds the first time. Each time after, I added one second of silence to my openings. Within just a few speeches, I got comfortable opening with long pauses.
Whether you pause, use a story, or a question, make sure it relates to your main point. Nothing confuses a group more than mixed messages.
Your opening can make or break your presentation. When you open with the same platitudes that every other speaker uses, the audience is already beginning to tune you out. Their first impression will be that you’re just like everyone else.
Experiment with the different tools you’ve picked up here. Grab the audience’s attention and set them up for your message when you open with a BANG!
Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln: 21 Powerful Secrets of History’s Greatest Speakers
Ever wish you could captivate your boardroom with the opening line of your presentation, like Winston Churchill in his most memorable speeches? Or want to command attention by looming larger than life before your audience, much like Abraham Lincoln when, standing erect and wearing a top hat, he towered over seven feet? Now, you can master presentation skills, wow your audience, and shoot up the corporate ladder by unlocking the secrets of history’s greatest speakers.
Author, historian, and world-renowned speaker James C. Humes—who wrote speeches for five American presidents—shows you how great leaders through the ages used simple yet incredibly effective tricks to speak, persuade, and win throngs of fans and followers. Inside, you’ll discover how Napoleon Bonaparte mastered the use of the pregnant pause to grab attention, how Lady Margaret Thatcher punctuated her most serious speeches with the use of subtle props, how Ronald Reagan could win even the most hostile crowd with carefully timed wit, and much, much more.
Whether you’re addressing a small nation or a large staff meeting, you’ll want to master the tips and tricks in Speak Like Churchill, Stand Like Lincoln.
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