Michael H. Schaefer, DTM

One on One Coach, Keynote Speaker, Leadership Trainer

With a Bang

How do you open your speeches? Do you know what Darren LaCroix, 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking says? First, let me tell you what he did to start his championship speech.

His introduction was essentially a faceplant. He fell face forward to the floor and delivered the next 30 seconds of his speech to the carpet. Talk about memorable. And it made perfect sense with his message.

During a personal coaching he told me there are really two ways to open a speech: with a question or a story. Questions immediately engage the listener in your topic. Stories engage the audience because our brains are naturally hardwired to receive that form of communication. And a well told story can be incredibly memorable.

Beyond those two principles, any opening for any speaker new to an audience has this in common: audience interest will never be higher than at the beginning of the speech. Audience attention wanes with the predictability of a physical law.

If you create a strong opening you have a much better chance of grabbing and holding the audience’s attention, and for longer.

Ways To Open

Provocative Statements “I eat snakes for a living.” “The first time I stole something I was eight.” “I love paying my taxes!” Once you’ve got a question out or started a story, you can use provocative statements to catch the audience’s attention. Find a way to bait them, even if your topic is straightforward. Why start a speech with a statement that everyone agrees with? Save the popular sentiment until you’ve created some interest. And something at first hearing that sounds counter-intuitive does just that.

Start In The Middle Raiders of the Lost Ark’sopening story starts a short hike from Indy’s goal, the cave of the lost idol. It doesn’t start with Indy finding a passage in an old book in the college library back in Indiana, or Indy booking a flight to South America, or the in flight meal dialog with a fellow passenger, or Indy hiring a bush pilot or even the flight upriver.  The story starts at the exciting part and fills in the backstory later. So should yours. (If you’d like some top flight coaching on your own stories email me at mailto:Michael@MichaelHSchaefer.com)

Be Funny No jokes. Too many are too tired. Find a real laugh about what’s relevant to the moment. Be self-deprecating, demonstrate affinity with the audience in some way.  To quiet a rowdy college audience of six hundred, I politely asked if everyone could hear me. When some of them shouted “No!” like I knew they wanted to, I shouted back, “Then shut up!” They loved it. Screaming at your audience doesn’t always work, so make sure you know who you’re talking to.

Open strong and you’ll carry the audience further.

…Next time: We’re not in Kansas anymore. Or are we?

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