How to Start a Speech: Two Killer Tips
It’s okay. It’s not your fault. You were just wired that way.
You, like everyone else, enjoy talking about yourself. You’re a cool person with cool experiences, so why wouldn’t you?
Especially if you have a microphone pointed at you with a roomful of people who have been told that you are the person who knows best when it comes to your topic. It’s only natural to brush your shoulders off and let the awesomeness of you waft over you. It’s a pretty cool feeling.
So naturally, you think - either consciously or unconsciously - that since you have been given this platform and people have come to hear you, then they must be interested in learning about you.
And so, you open your speech with some information about you, why you’re the person talking about this topic, and how you got to be the head honcho on stage.
While I have no doubt that your credentials, background, and experiences are very interesting, this isn’t the best way to open your speech. Don’t worry! You will still be able to talk about yourself. That part has its rightful place just a little later in your speech.
More often than not, I see people start their speeches by talking about themselves, not the audience.
I don’t know if it’s a desire to establish credibility. I don’t know if it’s being deemed an “expert” that initiates a myopic point of view. I don’t know if it’s just an ego trip that triggers it.
I think that for different people each of these apply.
By opening your speech with “how I got here” rather than “this is what I can do for you right now,” increases the probability that your audience will tune you out and tweet on their phones.
When I ghostwrite a speech for a client or when I’m writing a new one for myself, there are 10 questions I answer. Every time. Without fail. These questions help me shift my mindset from that of the speaker to that of the audience.
The speech should be framed around the audience's point of view, not the presenter's.
While each of the 10 questions is important for the speechwriting process, I think that the two crucial ones for the opening of the speech are:
What are they (the audience) proud of?
What problems do they have (and are aware of) that my presentation solves?
Let’s start with the problems.
By pinpointing and drawing out their pain, you set yourself up for a home run speech.
Putting the pain near the beginning of the speech demonstrates that you are a true expert.
You understand them. You know what they are thinking and feeling. You know what they struggle with.
This builds your credibility much more than your biography.
Now, some speakers make the mistake of staying in the “problems section” for too long. After a period of time, your commiserating can start to feel like browbeating and you come across like a jerk. Your audience will stop liking you and turn against you before you’ve reached the meat of your presentation.
You can counteract this potential problem by sprinkling in the answers you gave to the first question, “What are they proud of?”
Flattery goes a long way, especially from the platform.
Genuine flattery - not the plastic smile version.
Every audience is proud of something. Entrepreneurs are proud of their independence. Sales teams are proud of their business relationships. CEOs are proud of their companies. Women’s groups are proud of their families. IT groups are proud of their knowledge. Speakers are proud of every single thing they’ve ever done. (I kid because I love.)
Make it a point to bring these things up in near the beginning of your speech. Fluff their feathers. Stroke their ego. Make them feel good about themselves.
You will need to tap into their sense of empowerment in order for them to feel like they can tackle the problem you are addressing.
Remember, these two components should be at the beginning of your speech. Once you establish that you understand their struggles and give them a pat on the back for their success, then you can delve into your story and your content.
This is a subtle and powerful way to win over your audience and make them more receptive to what you have to say.
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