During this first month of our new year there has been a lot of talk about beginnings—new beginnings, exciting beginnings, resolving to do things differently, deciding to live with intention, etc. I realized this same newness, excitement and intention can be incorporated when we write and deliver our speeches. The opening of a speech needs to have the freshness of a brand new year.
Have you heard how most people open a speech? They say, “Thank you for this opportunity to discuss…,” or “Thank you for being here,” or “Thank you, Mr. Jones, for inviting me to speak.” What’s wrong with that, you ask? Everything! It’s boring, it’s mundane and it’s totally unnecessary. Most importantly, there is nothing about those openings that will grab the audience’s attention. You have approximately 30 seconds for the audience to decide if they’re with you or not, and if you don’t get them immediately, you’ll have to work much harder to win them back.
So set an intention this year to begin your speeches in a way that engages the audience from the minute you open your mouth. Make them look forward to your next words. You will set yourself apart from other speakers—you aren’t “most” speakers, you are special and they better listen to you!
Are you thinking, “Great idea, but how do I do that?” I thought you would never ask! There are several ways you can open that will have the audience sit at attention, waiting for your remaining wisdom. You can begin with a question, a startling fact, a quote—Maya Angelou began by singing a couple lines of an old spiritual hymn. I don’t advise that method unless you have Maya’s voice, but you get the idea. You can imagine how the audience leans forward and begs for more when that’s just the beginning! One CEO of an organization that works to end hunger begins her speech with, “In our community, 250,000 men, women and children will go hungry today.” Does she have the audience’s attention? You bet she does!
One of the easiest ways to begin is with a question—this will allow you to break the habit of starting your speech with those mundane niceties.
“Do you know that according to the Book of Lists, public speaking is the number one fear people list?” or “Do you know that 63% of those eligible, voted in the 2008 Presidential election?” With just a little thought after deciding what points you want to make in your presentation, an appropriate question to set the stage will appear.
Once you get very comfortable with these new beginnings, you can do what master speakers do and begin by going directly into a story. More about that next time…