Public Speaking Tips – Ace Your Opening

Imagine yourself standing in front of a room full of people, all waiting for you to begin your presentation. Now imagine that you begin with the words “Did you hear the one about…” Believe it or not, you just started digging a very deep hole for yourself. You may be thinking, “but Rob, how do I avoid that?”

You have probably heard the old adage, tell them what your going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them. The thing that is missing there is the essential need for you to develop a connection with your audience. You do not want to jump into that first main point until you have established that connection.

Here are three ways you can establish a connection right from the start. Each of these techniques is designed to be the very first thing you say when you address the audience. Let me repeat that, the very first thing you say. Why do I repeat that? Because someone will think I meant for you to use these techniques after “Ladies and Gentlemen,” or “I’m really glad to be here,” or “thank you Mr Toastmaster,” or… you get the idea.

What I am suggesting is to use one of the options below starting with your very first word.

The first method you can use is to open with a story or a quote. This is a 1-dimensional approach, since it only includes you speaking. If you use a story, remember to keep it “you focused” as much as possible. For example, “do you remember what it was like at your high school prom? You should have been there at mine when… you would have seen me…” Use this method to include your audience in the story. Of course, the story should meet a few criteria:

– it should relate to your presentation
– it can include humor, but probably not include jokes
– you should be able to call back to it throughout the presentation. i.e. “Just like my high school prom date told me, ‘It’s just the way it is’.”

If you choose a quote, make sure you do a couple of things:

– again, it should relate to your presentation
– you should quote a source most (if not all) of the audience would be familiar with
– both the subject and the source should relate to your presentation. i.e. quote Gen Patton or Stephen Covey on leadership, Jay Leno or Dave Berry on humor, etc.

The next method you can use is to open with a question. This is a 2-dimensional approach, and had two really good purposes. The first is to get them thinking right off the bat. Once they are thinking, they are involved… and you are getting connected. Second, you can gauge their overall energy level by their response, and work your next segments accordingly.

The final method is opening with an activity. This is a 3-dimensional approach, since it involves true audience interaction. BEWARE – this is not for the novice or the unprepared crowd. It can be tough enough to make activities work in the middle of a presentation, but to open with one, you will need to be on your game. If you pull this one off, you will have a high energy room with an audience that is glued to your entire program. If you bomb it, well… ouch. I recommend feeling comfortable with leading activities in other parts of the speech before trying this.

A successful connection with your audience does not have to be a difficult pursuit. By using one of the techniques I have discussed, you can make that connection, feel comfortable and confident, and with practice, Ace your Opening!

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Rob Christeson is an IT Project Manager, freelance writer and speaker based in Wichita, Kansas. His Talk to the Human™ blog is based on the premise that while on-line social networking, e-mail and text can be very useful for building contacts and staying in touch, nothing beats real live human communication when you need to get stuff done.

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