Just like a cheesy pick-up line, the first words that come out of your mouth when you are giving a speech will determine if you are going to get lucky with this audience. Unlike a wanna-be Casanova in a bar, you (normally) don’t have an opportunity to buy your audience a drink, so you’re going to have work extra hard to make your opening lines do all the work for you if you want to have any hope of sweeping the audience off of their feet. How are you going to score?
The 4 Questions That Every Audience Asks Themselves
Hopefully you’ve been given a great introduction. Now it’s your turn to speak. Dana LaMon who was the Toastmasters’ 1982 World Champion of Public-Speaking says that as your audience awaits the start of your speech, they are sitting there asking themselves four questions:
- Am I going to take the time to listen to this speaker?
- Am I going to benefit from what he / she talks about?
- Will they say anything that is valuable that I can take and use?
- Will anything that they say be worthwhile for me to take action on?
If you waste your first few words, then I can tell you what the answers to these questions will be – and you’re not going to like it!
Am I going to take the time to listen to this speaker?
Aren’t those Blackberry’s and iPhones just the coolest? Today more than ever your audience has other things that they can do while you are talking if they aren’t interested in what you have to say. Let’s pretend for just a moment that today’s jaded audience starts by answering this question with a “No”. Now you’re not just trying to move them to a “yes”, instead you’ve got the doubly hard job of moving them off of “no” and over to “yes”.
Every speech that you give will be different, but you can lose your audience every time if you make one of the following common speaker mistakes:
- Thanking Anybody: the first words out of your mouth in a speech are the equivalent of waterfront property in real estate – super valuable. Why would you waste them by saying something like “I’d like to thank the Dairy Producers Council for inviting me to talk to you today…”
- Calling Out Important People In The Audience: I don’t care if Obama himself is sitting in the front row or your audience, wasting your opening words pointing out that you’ve got important people in the audience is just you complementing yourself and nobody really wants to hear you do that.
- A Man Walks Into A Bar…: Why would anyone waste an opening of a speech on an old, tired joke that has nothing to do with what they are going to be talking about? I’ve seen this happen over and over again. Even when the joke is funny, all too often it doesn’t lead anywhere – it was just a cute thing to say and then the speaker starts his / her speech and the opportunity to grab the audience’s attention has been lost forever
- The Title Of This Speech Is…: What? Why would I be sitting in the audience if I didn’t already know what you are going to be talking about? Also, don’t waste an opening by introducing yourself “My name is Bob Johnson and I’d like to talk to you about …” Assume that either the audience already knows this information or they just don’t care about it. Get on with the meat of what you are there to talk about
Am I going to benefit from what he / she talks about?
I’m a busy guy and assuming that you have somehow gotten me to answer “yes” to the first question, you sure don’t have any guarantee that I’m going to keep listening to you – I’ve got a lot of email that I could be working my way through on my iPhone.
Right off the bat you are going to have to very concisely tell me why I should care about what you’re going to be talking about for the next 30 minutes or so. Whatever this speech’s purpose is, you’re going to have to keep it short – one sentence is the rule. If it’s longer than that, I’m not going to pay attention. Do this and there is a chance that you’re audience will remember what you said after you are done.
Will they say anything that is valuable that I can take and use?
What’s the greatest complement that a speaker can receive? Is it a standing ovation? Nope. It’s when your audience whips out a pencil and starts to take notes.
In every speech there are some “nuggets” that you want your audience to remember and use after you are done talking. It’s your job as a speaker to make these pieces of actionable information easy for your audience to find and remember. Saying things like “Here are three things that you might want to write down…” are a great way to motivate your audience to take notes.
Will anything that they say be worthwhile for me to take action on?
I’ve taken notes at a lot of speeches that I’ve attended and then I’ve gone home and filed them away somewhere and that was the end of the story. As a speaker this is exactly what you don’t want to have happen.
Instead, you want the information that you are passing on to be used – you really want to change people’s lives. To get your audience to take action you need to do three things: you need to tell them what you want them to do, you need to tell them why they should do it, and then you need to tell them that they can be successful in doing it.
What All Of This Means For You
When I’m coaching speakers who are struggling to break through to the next level in their speaking skills, we spend a lot of time working on the opening of their speech because it is so important. There are an almost unlimited number of ways that you can successfully grab an audience’s attention with your first few words. Unfortunately, there is an almost equal number of ways that you can lose them forever.
You’ll lose them if you spend your time thinking about yourself when you are putting your speech together. If, instead, you spend your time putting yourself in the position of your audience and making sure that you answer the questions that are running though their minds, then you’ll find the words that will grab their imagination from the get-go and you’ll be off and running with the best speech of your life.
What’s the best opening to a speech that you’ve ever seen?
What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
Just how much speaking can you do in a single day? We spend a lot of time talking about how to prepare for and give a good speech. However, sometimes life just comes at us like a runaway truck and we find ourselves double or triple (or more) booked to speak in a single day. Oh oh, looks like we’ve got a whole new challenge here…