You’ve got 5 seconds…maybe 6. You need to grab their attention immediately and then hold it for some time after that. Public speaking or giving presentations at work can be some of the most terrifying moments you may ever experience. It’s weird because you’re not in any physical danger, yet your heart pounds like it’s actively attempting to escape from your chest.
This doesn’t happen at this level for everyone. Some will look very comfortable and at ease. According to Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain,
“There are two types of speakers: those that are nervous and those that are liars.”
If you are like me and have experienced speaking or presenting more than once, the feeling usually doesn’t stay the entire time. It’s those moments before and the first few seconds in. This is the critical time of judgment. This is when your audience decides if they are interested or not. If you lose them in the beginning, can you get them back? Sure you can, but it’s like pumping water with the old cisterns…hard work.
You want an opening which creates an image, thought or excitement. You want your audience to immediately think,
“I am so glad I’m here.”
“OMG, why did I come?”
Your opening should effectively set the stage, pun intended, for what is to come.
But, here are some openings I hear all too frequently which do the exact opposite of excitement:
1.“I’m not really much of a public speaker, so please bear with me.”Ohhhhhh! This makes me cringe every time I hear it. Imagine going to a restaurant where you expect an amazing meal. You are hungry and you are waiting for your hunger to be satisfied. It’s been a long day and you are ready to “get your grub on.”
Just before the food comes, a man in a white chef hat approaches your table. “Ummm, excuse me folks. I’m not much of a cook, so I hope you’ll bear with me as I make the food tonight. Thanks for coming.”
Was that comforting for you? Did you say, “Oh well, at least he told me so I give him a bit of grace.” I’m willing to bet your answer is NOPE. Starting this way sets your audience up for terrible. Now, they don’t expect any value and are looking to critique your style instead of listening to your message.
Instead, simply give your talk as best as you can. If you can speak authentically, they will get it.
2.“Hi, I’m ******* and I work in the **** department.” You’re being picky, Robert. Maybe, however I file this under mundane and “regular.” You were already introduced or they saw you on the agenda. Who you are is important, yes, but I want to challenge you to make your audience THINK before you bring yourself into the equation.
Instead, ask a question or ask your audience to IMAGINE a specific scenario. After they have done the mental work, you now have them thinking about what’s next. NOW, “My name is ****** ***** and today I want to take you on a journey!” Isn’t that more interesting?
3.“I’m so glad to be here with you today.” Let’s think about the opposite of that for a moment. If you didn’t say it, would they assume you were mad at being there with them? What is your intention with the opening and how does it immediately involve your audience?
Instead, involve your audience immediately. If you aren’t able to make them do something physically or verbally, how can you involve them emotionally? You’ll be up there for a little while and ultimately they will listen. However, you want to give them the gift of engagement.
Your audience is there for you. That’s their gift to you. Repay that gift immediately and you will see their interest level and their engagement level skyrocket.