How quickly do you think your audience evaluates you when you begin your speech or presentation? Do you think it takes 5 minutes? Perhaps 10? Do you believe that your audience has the patience to wait until you finish to decide if they like you as a speaker?
The truth is that your audience will decide with your opening statement whether they want to listen to you or not. Thus, your opening statement is as important, if not more so, than everything that is to follow.
Often, we are so concerned with covering all the material possible in our presentation or speech that we forget or are even unaware of the value of our opening. If you want to be memorable in your audience’s eyes, then you must grab their attention with your opening remarks. Remember, they are not sitting there saying to themselves, “Let’s give this person 5 minutes to warm up!”
When I was still teaching Public Speaking at both the college and graduate school levels, I would fail any student who began his/her speech with the words, “Today, I am going to talk to you about…” Why?
1. As an audience, we know it is today! The word is redundant.
2. We know that it is you speaking and not someone else because we can see you standing there!
3. Explaining what you plan to talk about is the purpose of your speech or presentation. If you have an overhead slide with the name of your presentation on the title page, for example, they already know your subject. In most cases, however, those who have come to hear you speak have an idea about your topic anyway. That is why they are attending.
So instead of opening your delivery with the less than stellar words, “Today, I am going to talk to you about…” why not begin your delivery with a question, a joke (if it is relevant to your topic), an anecdote, a quote, or a brief story?
Questions are wonderful because they physically involve your audience: they must respond to you. Questions also give you a chance to breathe during the most difficult part of your presentation. (There is no doubt that breathlessness is a major problem for many presenters.)
Jokes are appropriate because they make your audience laugh, which relaxes them as well as you and makes them want to hear more. Their laughter also gives you a breather, again an important avenue in helping you control your nervousness.
Anecdotes, quotes, and brief stories are also valuable openers because your audience relates to them. Quotes bring recognition to your topic; and, everyone likes a good story or anecdote!
In all of these cases, you have set the stage for what is to follow. Your audience will want to hear more because you have already personalized yourself to them.
While your development is certainly the heart of your presentation or speech, your opening is the reason for your development. So the next time you are scheduled to speak, pay particular attention to your how you plan to begin your delivery, because once you capture your audience’s attention, it will be much easier to keep them centered on you throughout the rest of your presentation or speech.
The Voice Lady Nancy Daniels offers private, corporate and group workshops in voice and presentation skills as well as Voicing It!, the only video training program on voice improvement. Visit Voice Dynamic and watch Nancy as she describes Your Least Developed Tool!
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