“Liza! How many times do I have to tell you?? As my secretary, I want you to SIT at your desk when I walk in in the morning. And, you had better still SIT there when I leave at the end of the day! What pathetic excuse do you have THIS time for being late?? I swear, you are dumber than a light bulb!”
Reading that with no other information, what does it make you think? What do you wonder? Are you curious? What do you want to know more about? As for me, I was wondering, what did Liza do? Is her boss always yelling at her? Hmmmmm.
You may also wonder who Liza is. Liza Richards was a speech competitor in a District speech contest I attended in Delaware this past weekend. She delivered the opening line with energy and conviction. Based on what I saw, I know that she was not in her head telling the story; she was reliving it. It was a great opening.
Liza then took a step in silence and spoke directly to the audience,
“My boss, Julianne, was like Cinderella’s evil stepmother:
vicious, venomous, and vile!”
Good alliteration. Well-written and clear. This opening is what Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE, and I call a “Dialogue Opening.” You are literally using a line of dialogue as your very first words. The first words you use “flavor” your whole speech in the audience’s minds. If you start with a compelling opening, the audience’s minds will “look” for more good in your speech. If you have a boring opening, the audience’s minds will look for more boring or dull parts. How do you want your speeches flavored?
Your audience wants to be captivated and feel a connection with you. Many presenters do not put enough focused energy into their opening. They also do not test it and get feedback to see if they are on track. Do you? You may have heard Patricia Fripp say, “Your last words linger.” Now, I’d like to say, “Your first words should have a zinger!”
As World Champion Speaker Craig Valentine brilliantly says, “If you want a masterpiece, you must master the pieces.” A good opening should aim for the result of “drawing us in.” Get your audience to want to hear more, and, in effect, “set up” the listening.
Years ago I remember World Champion Speaker David Brooks telling a story of coaching someone who sent him a speech that was very weak. He said he was not quite sure where to start. He circled the opening and sent it back to the speaker and told him, “Why don’t you focus on this section.” He said he got the speech back and the opening was actually much better. He then circled the closing and suggested that the speaker now focus on improving that section. He said the same thing happened. The closing got stronger. This continued until the whole speech was much better. Sometimes we just need to focus on one section at a time.
One of my favorite openings is right out of Patricia Fripp’s and my program, Create Your Keynote By Next Week, simply the word “Imagine…” Then I follow it by painting the audience into the role of a World Championship Speech Contestant. I say, “Imagine it is Saturday morning, you walk into the meeting room and you look out and see two thousand chairs.” In this instance I’m having the audience picture in their minds a result that they would want. That is one way to use this word and strategy effectively. Think about it. What is the result you are “selling”? Let the audience see, feel and smell it! What result does your audience want? How could you paint them into that picture?
Your audience wants to love you. They want to feel connected to you. Picture them sitting in front of you thinking, “Before you get to the body and the point, PLEASE, open me first!”
Before we start any of our Champ Camps, if Ed Tate, CSP, is around, he gets the audience up dancing. People who come on time look at their watch and wonder if they are late. People who are there get caught off guard at times. Eventually, even the non-dancers get caught up in the fun. It is a great opening for a day of training.
The worst strategy for opening is to not have a strategy or “winging it.” Second worst is to open up with, “Good morning, what an honor to be here with you.” Yuck! Any standard line that they have heard before is not a compelling way to open. It’s okay if you choose to be “polite” and say, “Good morning” as a bridge between your opening and the body of your speech, just NOT at the beginning! It actually makes you look unprepared, unprofessional and not honoring your privilege of having their time.
Liza had a great opening, AND she came in second in the speech contest. It was good and solid. If I were coaching her, the only thing I would have changed was to make it a little tighter; that is, saying the same thing in fewer words, even if what she said was a direct quote.
Before you get to your main points, make your audience wonder. Make them curious where you are going with this. Don’t give away your answer too soon. If we know what is coming, we often lose interest.
There are many elements to a great speech, but whether you are doing a full-day training, a one-hour professional speech or a seven-minute speech at Toastmasters, your opening is important. Take time to focus on each individual “element” of your speech. The elements deserve their own focus and attention even though they work together as a whole presentation. Will you put more time into strategically opening your audience’s ears to your message? As Patricia would say, “Your last words linger.” AND your first words should be a zinger!
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