Friday, September 21, 2012

Start your speech as you mean to go on

There's a saying that runs "how you do anything is how you do everything". There may be some exceptions to that, but as a general rule, I think it's sound. That's why I believe it is so important to begin a speech in exactly the way you intend to deliver all of it. You need to be confident, interesting and entertaining. Alas, some speakers think that they have to break the ice by telling a joke or wittering on about their qualifications and achievements before turning to the topic that people expect to hear. 

In my view, you are not only short-changing the audience if you begin with irrelevant detail, but you are also running the risk of losing their interest before you have told them what the speech is about. There are many ways that you can begin a speech with relevant material while keeping the audience engaged. You can make a promise to help them overcome business issues that we all share. You can pose a tricky question that makes them think, and explain how you will show them the answer. You can use humour as long as it is relevant.
In short, your speech opening should:

  • Set the tone for the rest of the speech
  • Engage the interest of the audience
  • Make a promise
  • Establish a common interest between you and them
  • Move smoothly into the body of the speech
In the fictional West Wing TV show, written by the brilliant Aaron Sorkin, there's a clip that shows exactly how a bad speech opening can be transformed into a good one. If only everyone had speechwriters like this.


Simon Raybould said...

Good point - and I'll go even further: if you need to tell people you're an expert in advance of your presentation, you're obviously not expert enough! :)

Phil Shepherd said...

A great clip Alan.

"Out of Chaos comes order"

Best avoid the chaos/confusion in the first place methinks.