Life Lessons: How NOT To Open A Speech

by drjim on May 10, 2011

A Poor Speech Opening Is Like Breaking A Promise To Your Audience

A Poor Speech Opening Is Like Breaking A Promise To Your Audience

Let’s say that you owned a lot of real estate. One of your properties was located on the edge of an ocean. Front this lot you could see the most beautiful sunsets every single night. Now you are getting ready to build some houses on the properties that you own. What kind of house are you going to build on your ocean front property? I suspect that it’s going to be the nicest house that you build – you are going to want the house to match the fantastic piece of property that it sits on. Turns out that you need to use the same thinking when you are creating an opening for your next speech

How You Should NOT Open Your Next Speech

Sometimes the best way to learn how to do something is to find out how NOT to do it. I’m hoping that if we spend a moment talking about how you should not open your next speech this will help you to do a better job of coming up with a way that will work.

The first rule of what not to do is to try to tell a joke. The one exception to this is if you tell jokes for a living, then you can consider it. For the rest of us, this one is a no-no.

Likewise, opening with a barrage of words or terms that your audience won’t understand is a great way to lose them from the beginning. The flip side of this tactic is to take the time to laboriously define all of the terms that you are using. Don’t do this because it will slow down your opening and once again you will lose everyone from the beginning.

A very common mistake that I see over and over again is for the first words that come out of the speaker’s mouth to be a long series of thank-you’s. The audience really doesn’t care to hear you thanking everyone that you’ve ever met (that’s why those Hollywood awards shows are always so boring). Use your first words better.

If you need some help in what to open with, for goodness sake don’t think small. Talking about some minor point or some trivial matter will turn your audience off. They’ll be thinking that if you’re going to start out small, then you’re speech is just going to get even smaller so why should they pay attention?

Finally, no matter what is going on around you, never open your speech by apologizing for anything. Flames could be leaping from the curtains and the flood waters could be rushing in through the back doors, but don’t you mention it to your audience. You need to focus on your speech and let everything else take care of itself.

How You Should Open Your Next Speech

Now that you know what not to do, it does bring up the interesting question of what you should be doing. It turns out that the answer is that there are two things that you need to accomplish during your speech’s opening.

The first of these is to grab your audience’s attention. The first minute or so of your speech is your special time – everyone will stop what they’ve been doing and they’ll listen to you while they try to figure out if you’ll be worth spending time on.

This is your one chance to convince them that you’re going to be saying interesting things that they will want to hear. Make your opening grab their imagination by using provocative questions, startling statistics, or even by referring to recent events.

Once you’ve grabbed their attention, your job is not done. Now what you have to do is answer the one question that every audience asks themselves at the start of any speech: “what’s in it for me?” You need to tell them why spending the next 30, 60, or even 90 minutes listening to you is going to produce real tangible benefits for them. If you can do this during your opening, then you will have spent your first few words wisely.

What All Of This Means For You

Next to the way that you close your speech, the way that you open it is the most important thing that you’ll do during the speech. It sure makes sense that you don’t screw this up!

What this means is that you’re not going to want to start out with a joke unless you tell jokes for a living. You’re also not going to want to waste those precious first few words on things that have nothing to do with your speech.

You are going to want to use your opening to capture the audience’s attention. Once you’ve done that, you will want to follow up and make sure that you answer the question “what’s in it for me”.

If you can avoid doing the wrong things while at the same time doing the correct things, then the opening for your next speech should be spectacular. Just like that house that you built on your waterfront property, your speech opening will be someplace that you’ll be proud to go over and over again.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: How long do you think a speech opening should last?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Ever get the feeling that your audience just isn’t listening to what you are telling them? I mean sure, they seem to be with you at the start of your speech and then they seem to show up once again at the end, but how’s that middle part going for you? Researchers have studied what’s going on with your audience during the middle of your speech and let’s just say that it’s not good – they are checking out. Looks like we’re going to have to have a talk here – let’s find a way to keep them on board…

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Fred E. Miller May 11, 2011 at 7:56 am

Good stuff, Jim!

The Law of Primacy and Recency says we’ll remember the first and last things said.

Another tip for the Opening – PUASE before speaking, almost to the point where the audience thinks something is wrong. When you speak your first words, you will have their undivided attention.

Thanks!

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