Quotation of the month:
"Research shows that we start to make up our minds about other people within seven seconds of first meeting them. We are communicating with our eyes, faces, bodies and attitudes. Consciously or unconsciously, we're signaling to other people what our true feelings are and what we want to happen in our encounter. "
–Roger Ailes, author of: "You Are the Message."
Opening: First impressions are lasting impressions. How we open our speeches is therefore crucial; so we must place great importance on always opening strong.
Promise: By utilizing the 'law of primacy,' (what the audience hears first) you'll instinctively structure your speech openings with a big bang that will get your audience interested, committed and nodding their heads in agreement with you.
You'll discover five ways to take charge of the stage at the outset of your speech. The first four ways deal with content, and the last one deals with manner of delivery:
As a speaker, you, like me, have likely agonized over speech openings, thinking: "Which is the best way to begin? Which way is the most effective and powerful? Which way will have most impact for my audience and make me more memorable?"
- a rhetorical question
- an original or interesting story
- a powerful quotation
- an interesting statistic or known fact
- manner of delivery
There is no one way to start, however, whichever way you choose, start with the end in mind- with your takeaway message. What do you want the audience to think, feel, say or do differently AFTER you speak?
Connect your speech opening to your close - your takeaway message. The first 30 seconds (primacy) and last 30 seconds (recency) must be the strongest and most powerful, since that is what the audience remembers most.
Five Ways to take Charge of the Stage with these Openings
Good luck in creating lasting impressions!
- ASK A Rhetorical Question
"YOU" is the most powerful word in a speech. It brings the audience to you by tapping into their own life experiences and gets them thinking and engaged right away. By connecting with them and inviting them in, you'll make them want to journey with you. Focus on them before getting into the body of your presentation. Remember, it's all about them... not you.
A few examples of types of connecting questions:
"Have you ever...?" "What degree of fear did you feel when ...?" "When was the last time you...?" "If you're a parent, are you aware that...?" "Who, in your life, was so influential that...?
These types of questions get their attention by instilling curiosity, interest and excitement in your audience. After asking them, don't step on their thoughts. Ensure that you pause long enough for them to reflect on their own thoughts.
- TELL An Interesting Original Story
You may be familiar with speaker, Bill Gove's expression: "Tell a story, make a point." or another expression: "Facts Tell, Stories Sell."
A well-crafted, well-told personal story that conveys the underlying message of your speech is an excellent way to begin a presentation. It:
- establishes your credibility instantly
- captures the audience's attention
- connects you with your audience.
Connection results when the audience, after listening to a vignette from your own life in which you faced some adversity and learned a process that helped you overcome it, views you as similar to them. Such stories trigger universal emotions such as: happiness, sadness, surprise, disgust, fear or anger. People are moved by emotions. We all experience the same emotions though we have different stories. Stories also help you speak in a natural, conversational manner.
Mark Brown, 1995 W.C. P.S. says: "Nobody but you can tell your story, and nobody can tell your story the way you can."
Create a Story File and store it for reference. Add to it as new stories arise. A word of warning: Avoid boasting about yourself, appearing superior or placing yourself on a pedestal as that will alienate you from your audience.
- USE A Powerful Quotation
If you choose to use a quotation, use one that proves or supports your message. Try to avoid using an overused or well-known one. What do you think when you hear an overused quotation: "Oh no, not this again!" Keep your opening interesting, unique and fresh for your audience, so they'll be interested and intrigued. Use a quotation made by a family member, a boss, or a friend, one you heard repeatedly, one that taught you a life lesson that you want to share with others. A quotation is also a great tool to tie your presentation together and give you direction.
Ensure that you relate the meaning and importance of the quotation to your life and how it can also bear on the audience's lives.
Remember to give the source and the exact wording of a well-known person! If you cannot remember either of the above, do not use the quotation as you will definitely lose credibility with your audience.
- CITE An Interesting Statistic
If you decide to use a known fact or interesting statistic, make it 'you-focused' right at the start. For example: "It may interest you to know that according to ..." "You may have thought that ...but what this survey states is..." "Did you realize that Gallup Polls have discovered that...?"
People are not moved by facts; they're moved by emotions. Discuss how the statistic has been or could be relevant to both your life and possibly to the lives of audience members. You may use the facts of the statistic in a personal story so the message will be emotionally connected and solidly anchored People need to hear and feel whatever feeling you experienced, the process you learned, how you learned it, and most importantly, how they too can achieve a similar outcome.
- WATCH Manner of Delivery
Speakers often start off with an energy that does not match the audience's. This is a surefire way to lose them. You can access the audience's energy level by watching them during others speakers' sessions and while you are being introduced. Check their energy level, match it and then, and only then, take them to where you want them to go. This process is termed by Craig Valentine as: "Pace and Lead."
I encourage you to be creative in your opening of your presentations. Speaking is about connection which must be established at the outset of your presentation, since first impressions are lasting ones.
Join me next month when we look at the letter "P" as it relates to another speaking skill. Until then, happy speaking!
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