Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Grab ‘em by the balls or kick ‘em in the balls (or 8 ways to open a speech: 4 that rock and 4 that suck)

You’re palms are sweating. You’ve spent the last 10 days preparing this speech and you know every point inside and out. Your power point presentation doesn’t suck. You manage to stop your knees from knocking. You look smoking hot (hotter still because the audience can’t see the huge knot forming in your stomach).

You get to the podium and you start your speech.

How you open that speech and what you say in that first minute will either entice and engage (or more crassly grab ‘em by the balls) or alienate and stagnate (kick ‘em in the balls) your audience.

4 sucky ways to open

1. ZZZ out. “My name is Brad Jones, thank you for having me here”. Your audience thinks: nothing. It’s unexciting, unimaginative and unnecessary. You’ve just wasted your best chance to make an impact.

2. Lame out. “I flew in this morning and man my arms hurt”. A weak joke or a lame cliché is a one way ticket to rolling eyes and stifled (or not stifled) yawns.

3. Freak out. By telling the audience you’re nervous. As a speaker, I’ve done this myself, even mistakenly thought it was endearing at times, but after your first 3 speeches, kick it from your repertoire immediately. Fake your confidence until you’ve spoken enough to have it for real.

4. Zone out. Looking at your notes. Even if you can’t remember your whole speech, you can for darn sure remember the opening sentence. Make eye contact during that first moment for a much more memorable entrance.

4 rocking ways to open

1. Shock ‘em. I sat on a panel once at a high school and delivered what I thought was a great little speech. Also sitting on the panel were respected sports people, politicians and a who’s who of my local area. I had no idea who the last person on the panel was however. Her opening: “Hi, my name’s Janice and I’m a hairy legged lesbian”. Total silence for about 3 seconds, and then the room went crazy. She had the audience in the palm of her hand, every other speaker including myself was forgotten and she was mobbed like a celebrity at the end of the talk.

2. Question ‘em. I love to open my speeches with a question, something to get the audience thinking about your topic immediately. I’ll often go with “ when you were 5 years old what did you want to be when you grew up?” Depending on the audience we get some laughter out of these answers to (strangest answers to date being “cat” and “fire truck”) or I can usually get a chuckle when I assure them that at 5 I was 99% convinced that I was going to be Madonna when I grew up.

3. Statistic ‘em. If you’re speaking on health and fitness you might state that statistically speaking, given the number of the people in the room X number of them will die of obesity related disease before they turn 70. Or someone talking about the importance of sleep might say that if you miss X hours of sleep it’s like being over the legal alcohol limit (so that when you pick up your kids from school it’s the same sculling 3 beers just before getting them). On this though – make sure your stats are well researched and you can back them up if you need to.

4. Story ‘em. The best speakers are all story tellers. There’s a reason reality television is the phenomenon it is today: people are interested in other people’s lives. Where possible share your own story, where it’s not relevant, find an inspiring story and share that to illustrate your point and set your mood.

And don’t be afraid to combine these. Shock them with a scary statistic. Or I typically like to question my audience and then work into a story. I’ll sometimes ask my audience who among them has had a bad day in the past month. Typically 80% of the hands in the room will go up. From there I’ll share a story about the day I met a man who’d had a really bad day Walter Mikak (www.waltermikac.com.au/) who lost both his daughters and his wife in one day in the Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania. After I’m done sharing part of Walter’s remarkable story and the perspective it’s given me on bad days, I’ll ask the same question again – who really has had a bad day in the past month?

So, rock ‘em, shock ‘em and blitz ‘em or freak out, lame out and zzz out: the choice is yours.

By Kirsty Dunphey with No comments


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