Michael H. Schaefer, DTM

One on One Coach, Keynote Speaker, Leadership Trainer

What the Heck are You Talking About?

Answer the multiple choice question after reading this speech opening:

“How do you feel when you have to admit something you don’ t want to? At least 400 times a day in New York City someone gets on a subway train without knowing if it’s the right one. My mother told me the most important thing to do when you make a mistake is admit it. But the subway is one place you don’t want to show weakness. Even when you’re in charge of labeling subway trains. Maybe we could all take a lesson from Mom.”

The speech that follows this opening will be about:

  1. The ability to admit mistakes;
  2. Mismanagement in bureaucracies like the MTA;
  3. What you learned (or didn’t) from your mother; or
  4. I have absolutely no clue and I already hate this speaker.

The start of any speech is full of possibilities. Many of your listeners may have no idea what will come out of your mouth, even if you’ve been introduced, there’s an agenda at every seat, and your speech title is projected behind you in letters twenty feet tall. Do your audience a favor and tell them exactly what you’re going to talk about. And right near the beginning. If you’ve waited to tell them until after an opening like the one above, it may be too late.

To a speaker, the most precious commodity (even before his or her fee!) is the audience’s attention. And you can lose it fast if they don’t know where you’re heading. If you don’t orient them to the talk, they’ll start trying to figure out the thread of logic between your thoughts. Some of the audience will stop listening while they try to figure it out, others will just tune out. Let them know the topic, and there’s a settling in, an exhale, as they put on their listening hats.

Examples of clear openings might be:

I’d like to talk about my hobby _____ , how I got into it, some of its history, and the benefits you could get from doing it yourself;

I’m going to tell you about the three biggest killers in world health today;

I’m going to take the next 5 minutes to summarize last quarter’s performance;

Here’s the 4 main points of our new initiative;

Here’s what you need to know to protect your money.

Some speakers, myself included, like to create a certain amount of suspense, or a twist late in the event that creates a bit of a wow. But there’s a huge difference between surprise and confusion. Start them off on the right track.

If you’d like a second opinion on your opening, email me atMichael@MichaelHSchaefer.com.

Next time:   Changing gears without grinding…

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