In Public Speaking The First Few Words Really Matter

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In the world of public speaking and presenting the first few words really do matter.

One of the words I find very uncomfortable is, ‘hook’; as in ‘How to hook your audience in the first 30 seconds’. The term suggests to me that audiences are more like fish than intelligent, discerning and creative beings.

It’s true that the moment you stand in front of an audience you have just seconds to capture their undivided interest and curiosity. You already have their attention; they turned up to listen to you speak.

Your audience are not fish by any stretch of the imagination and they will size you up before you utter a single word. If they don’t like what they hear in the first few seconds they will throw you back into the lake.  Rather than trying to ‘hook’ them,  consider a more mindful strategy.

1. Get to know them

Call or email your audience before you sit down to craft your presentation; learn as much as you can about them.

You may be the expert on the topic you are presenting but how much does your audience know. The first challenge in public speaking and presenting is getting to learn as much as you can about your audience.

That means having the courage to get a little personal before you prepare your content and opening.

– How much do they know about the topic or issue?

– How much do they care about it?

– What’s there mood and appetite for the topic?

Public speaking isn’t about ‘hooking’, it’s about helping.

Don’t make assumptions about what it will take for you to capture and keep your audience’s interest and curiosity. Make it your business to learn as much as you can about them long before you open your laptop to start building slides. Rather than asking yourself how you can ‘hook’ them, ask yourself how you can help them from the moment you begin to speak.

In public speaking and presenting we need to know our audience before we utter a word.

2. Focus on feelings

For decades, business professionals have been brain washed to believe that emotion has no place in public speaking and business presentations. Expressing ourselves emotionally has long been perceived as a sign of weakness or uncertainty. The truth is, we are all emotional beings. We want the data, evidence and insights but will only act on it if we feel something.

The very first thing you need to do is to think about what mood you want to create from the moment you speak; how do you want your audience to feel?  Once again, that decision has to be made long before you open your laptop. If you don’t know what how your audience already feel about your message how can you craft a presentation to influence how you want them to feel?

Sadly, many presenters have spent decades focusing almost exclusively on presenting data and logic. The Greek philosopher Aristotle, told us 23 centuries ago that, at the very heart of influence and persuasion is ‘pathos‘; how we appeal to our audience’s emotions.

In public speaking and presenting we need to make that decision before we utter a word.

3. Be in the room

Don’t launch into your presentation immediately, instead take a moment to ground yourself and breathe. Be totally present with your audience by holding the silence for just a few seconds (3 will do).

Take in the entire room, then individual members of your audience by sending them all your unspoken thoughts of goodwill. Don’t say a word until you make eye contact with a few kind souls. Don’t be in a rush to speak; be still, smile and  speak your first sentence mindfully.

In a previous article I wrote called, ‘Improve your presence in business presenting and public speaking’ I called it presence.

‘Presence is the ‘jewel in the crown’ of high impact business presenting. It’s the elixir of public speaking and presenting that allows us to communicate creatively with clarity and confidence. If you could buy it in a pill or a potion someone would be extremely rich.’

Abigail Brenner M.D. has written an article about ‘The Practice of Presence’, in Psychology Today.

In public speaking and presenting presence begins before our audience hears a word we say.

4. Don’t start with the obvious

My plea in asking you to avoid the classic ‘hook’ extends equally to the humdrum. Remember, you already have their attention, now you have to get their interest and curiosity.

Resist the urge to do what everyone does by saying, ‘It’s lovely to be here, I’m delighted to be speaking to you’. Tell them something they don’t already know, that’s relevant, important and helpful to them.

The first few words really do matter and that doesn’t include your name, title, and how many offices you have or products you sell. That’s boring and you should have told them that long before they turned up to listen to you.

Begin by telling them who you are by sharing a personal story or an experience which will immediately illustrate you’re message and show them you’re human; one of them.

Help them to connect with you first and make certain it’s relevant to your audience and your message.

It’s not about ‘hooking’ it’s about helping and the most effective way to do that is to challenge the status quo of monotonous openings. Here are ‘7 Real Examples of How to Open a Presentation With Impact.’

Have you heard of the ‘primacy effect?’

Simply put, it’s a premise which suggests that if you give someone a lot of information it’s likely that they will remember something from the beginning. In public speaking and presenting that’s very helpful to know.

I really hope you enjoyed this post. If you did, please feel free to share it through your preferred social media channels below and subscribe to our mailing list so you won’t miss any future posts.

If this article has inspired you to learn a little more about how effective your presentation skills are you may want to take a look at our presentation training and presentation coaching pages to see how we may be able to help you. You will also find a great deal of really helpful ‘free’ information in our Learning Centre.

Image: Courtesy of istockphoto.com

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