Monday, July 18, 2011

Public Speaking - Starting Off

You would think that starting off would be a critical time in the presentation wouldn't you? In fact, it's not at all. You can say virtually anything in the opening moments because no one will absorb what you are saying. You can recall your last visit to the city. You can compliment the group. You can talk about the weather. It really doesn't matter.

If we take our example from the theater, you will note that nothing of significance happens until the audience is ready to settle down to the business of listening. When you go to a play, the curtain rises and the maid is dusting or the butler is picking lint off a pair of pants. Nothing really important happens until the audience has had a chance to focus on the stage.

You can say anything to use up time, but don't use up too much time. Some speakers think that fooling around too long makes the audience become restless. However, this approach starts a nice slow relationship with the audience where you don't come on strong until they get to know you a little. This might be a good time to show some concern for the audience's comfort. You could ask, Is it too hot for you, or can everyone see OK? If it is too hot or they can't see, do something about it or call someone who can. Show them how concerned you are. If it is too hot and you can't do anything about it, you have an opportunity to make light of that fact. If you don't, everyone will be thinking about it anyway and not listening to you. You could walk over to the air conditioner and pretend to read a notice, Maintained by the Devil-May-Care Air Conditioner Company.

This lighthearted attitude will demonstrate the fact that you can be flexible enough to handle any adverse situations that may arise. If you can handle it, then your audience will likely follow. If you want to take a more hard-hitting approach, you can use a unique humorous opening, or a challenging or electrifying statement that will speed the normal focusing process.

These openings command attention. I opened an employee appreciation luncheon once with the statement, I'm here to talk to you today about Quality Improvement. I thought the audience members were going to cry until I started laughing and said, You've heard enough about that lately, haven't you? In fact, they had it up to their ears with Quality Improvement training. At a sales training seminar the first words out of my mouth were, I want you to fail! I want you to fail because in order for you to succeed you must fail! To succeed to high levels you must fail a great deal! This was a serious NO ZZZZZs opening that commanded immediate attention.

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