I often evaluate speakers in contests. I evaluated one again last night. Great fun; great speeches!
This was a contest involving emerging professional speakers. The prize was the opportunity to speak in front of a regular association meeting of about seventy people. Last night’s audience was about forty or so. There were four judges, American Idol-style.
One speaker, who has a very compelling story as part of a speech on the importance of safety, weakened the opening by:
- coming on stage and setting up a chair and some props
- making some off-handed remarks while doing so
- “puttered around” trying to make sure everything was just right
- starting into the talk at the end of this process without a pause to let us know when to start paying attention.
I understand why—it was a nerve-racking situation. As a speaker, you’ve no doubt been there – either a contest or a talk in front of your peers. This was both—yikes! So, this speaker deserves a big round of applause for even taking it on. But, getting ahead involves taking risks.
The speech overall went very well. However, the opening moments lessened the impact.
So, here are some tips for your opening:
- have someone else set up all your props just the way you want them
- when you get on stage, pause to collect your thoughts (the audience will wait) and then start into your first line
- make sure to connect visually with your audience right off the top
Your first words are very often the most powerful part of your talk. They set the tone. The audience forms their first impression of you from how you start. Starting in a disorganized manner gives just that impression. We don’t mean to do it, but we do.
So, next time you prepare to deliver a really important speech (or have to do it in an extremely nerve-racking situation), just make sure to follow the above steps. You will have your audience’s attention right from the start, and likely from the remainder of your talk.