Saturday, January 9, 2016

Start your speech by grabbing the audience's attention

How long do you have to get people interested in your speech?

Well, consider this: when you are channel surfing with your TV remote, how long do you sit and watch a show to decide whether you want to watch it? Would you sit there for five minutes? What if the show started like this: "We're really glad to be here. Thanks so much for inviting us into your home. We didn't really have as much time to prepare this show as we wanted to, and some of the equipment isn't working right." If you're like me, you'd be on another channel long before you found out what equipment isn't working.

Yet, how many times do we begin a speech like that? What if you went to a web site like that? What if somebody met you on the street and started that way?

What do a TV show, a web site, a meeting on the street, and a speech have in common? I like to think of all of them as forms of communication between two people. I'm coming more and more to believe that all forms of communication share some common characteristics, and one of them is that you need to start with a bang. When you meet Bob on the street, how do we usually start? "Bob! How the heck are ya?" We're trying to grab Bob's attention by saying his name.

We should start speeches the same way: grab people's attention. Now, I don't mean to (as Craig Valentine would say) "crowd-nap" them. If you ran up to Bob on the street like Steve Ballmer in this clip, somehow I don't think Bob would be thrilled about talking to you! I do mean to start by saying something that people will think "huh, this is going to be interesting!"

How might we do that? Here's a few ideas.
1) Start with a story. Stories draw us in, hook us and keep us hooked, perhaps for hours.
2) Start with a startling statement. Craig Valentine has often begun speeches by saying "When I was in prison.... visiting..." Who wouldn't get hooked with an opening like that?
3) Start by asking a powerful you-focused question. In Darren Lacroix's world championship speech, "Ouch", he began: "Can you remember a moment when a brilliant idea flashed into your head?" Then let it sink in! Don't step on the audience's thoughts.
4) Start with an activity. Craig Valentine suggests we shouldn't start with an activity most of the time, because we have not yet earned the right to ask our audience to do something. What would it be like if a total stranger walked up to you on the street and said, "Bob, I'd like you to take out your wallet and examine a dollar bill." However, as Craig points out, this can be useful if the culture of the event is to start with an activity. Another time when it could be useful is if the previous speaker completely put the audience asleep and there's no other way you can think of to wake them up.

Whichever method you choose, try to get the audience's attention. Remember meeting Bob on the street. Grab Bob's attention.

1 comment:

  1. Great points, Gary. I love the analogy of channel surfing.

    Like you, I believe there are some common threads to all communication.

    Have you seen my recent post about starting with a startling statistic? In it, you’ll find 3 short examples on video. The first’s by Jamie Oliver, who uses 3 novel techniques to personalise his opening line – without ever saying “you”. So there are some interesting takeaways!