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  • Bruce Rule

Effective Ways to Start When Public Speaking (Part 1)

Updated: Jun 16


rule communications Bruce Rule
Skip Beginning of Your Speech With a List of Thanks

The first thing you say when public speaking needs to grab the attention of your audience, or you risk their minds wandering. Too many speakers start slowly, and then try to reel back in the audience, and you should try to avoid that.

 

Fortunately, there are strong ways that have been tried and tested for catching your audience right from the start. We will go over them in this post and the next few, but first I want to warn you against some practices that would hurt your cause.

 

In the last post I explained why starting with a joke is a bad idea. You can read that here. But there are three other things that I think you should avoid at the beginning.

 

Skip the Biography

 

While a short “thank you” addressed to the person who introduced you is fine, unless you were asked to do so don’t start your presentation or speech with your autobiography or name, title and background. I think we have all been in an audience where the speaker spends the first few minutes telling us who they are, what they have done in the past, and why they are presenting. It’s pretty dull and you usually tune out and then force yourself to refocus when the speaker gets to the meat of the speech.

 

If it is necessary for the audience to know your background, there are two better ways to provide it. The one I rely on when giving presentations is to provide those details to the person who will introduce me. In fact, I offer to write the introduction myself, so I can stick to the most pertinent details. My offer has never been turned down. Most of the times the presenters are relieved because then all they have to do is read what I have written.

 

I like this method because it avoids the appearance of bragging (“I did this…” “Then I did that …” “I published …” and “now I…”) and it doesn’t cut into the time I’ve been given for my presentation.

 

The other method is to start by using two of the six ways I will outline, and then slip in the appropriate autobiographical details.

 

Here’s an example of what I mean. When I do a presentation on how to improve your public-speaking skills, this is one of the openings I use:“Three out of four people feel anxiety at the thought of speaking in public. Raise your hand if you fall into that category. (I also raise my hand). I know how you feel, because I still get nervous every time I walk on stage. Even though I’ve won public-speaking contests and I’ve been teaching public-speaking workshops and coaching private clients for more than a decade now. But I’ve learned how to control that anxiety, and I’m going to share those techniques with you.”

 

See how seamlessly I slip my background? And make it pertinent to the presentation?

 

Greetings and Thanks

 

Also, it’s usually best to avoid starting your speech with “hello,” “good morning/afternoon/evening,” and other greetings. They are throat-clearing time-wasters.

 

The other thing to avoid, if possible, is starting your speech or presentation with a long list of people you want to thank. I know there are occasions that demand it, like a non-profit’s annual dinner or a political rally. In those cases it may be important for the speaker to acknowledge everyone’s hard work so they keep on helping out. But in general, most of the time it is unnecessary.

 

Attention-Grabbing

 

The best start to a speech or presentation is an opening that will grab the attention of your audience. Here are six general ways to do that:

 

1) Hit the audience with an ear-catching statistic or a superlative fact.

 

Notice that the sample opening above starts with the ear-catching statistic that three out of every four people have public-speaking anxiety. Three out of four. That is a lot. I like using this statistic to open because not only does it catch people’s attention it also lets them know they are not alone if they feel nervous about doing a presentation. I hope that eases their mind a bit, making them more receptive to the techniques that I am going to present.

 

As for a superlative, this is the one that I usually recommend my clients use when giving a company presentation, especially when it is a progress report or a regular update. By superlatives, I mean picking a fact in the presentation that you describe using such words as highest, lowest, most, biggest etc. or by using a time period.    

 

“Last month we had the highest rate of compliance since January 2022,” for example. “We have now gone a record 17 months without an onsite accident,” is another.


The follow-up sentence would be something like: “I’m now going to explain how we accomplished that.”        

 

The benefit with starting a company presentation in this way is two-fold. First, if it is a regular progress report to the same audience each time, using a superlative would catch their attention far more than any recap. Second, as mentioned in a previous post, if you are speaking to higher ups you need to hit them right away with the reason they should pay attention or their minds will turn to all the other issues on their plates,

 

In the next post we will go over some other ways to grab the attention of your audience at the start.  

 

 

 

 

 

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