That Vital Opening Statement

By: Vincent Stevenson

Many inexperienced speakers rush their presentations because of that fear and dread of standing up in front of a live audience. They cannot wait to bring it to a close.

As long as the message has been delivered and reinforced (usually by distracting and overloaded PowerPoint slides) that's the job done. Thinking about how to win over the audience is the last thing on people's mind but it is absolutely crucial.

It's vital to get the audience on board immediately, otherwise they'll have switched off in the first 5 minutes; that should be regarded as a catastrophe, but regrettably it is alarmingly common.

In recent years I have made a point of asking people what they thought about a presentation that we have all sat through and it is truly horrifying how many people very quickly went off into their own dream world, so dull was the presenter.

It is not uncommon for 100 people to sit through an hour's presentation and only 10 to be still listening after a few minutes – imagine all that lost working time.

What are the steps to winning over an audience?

Good audience reconnaissance is never wasted. Find out who they are and what are their expectations.

Imagine a politician addressing an audience of business people all of whom are running small independent operations and that politician's opening remarks being ‘Red tape is strangling this country and impeding the ability of our entrepreneurs to thrive. We will reduce this burden at a stroke by taking the following actions …'.

So long as the key message was congruent and beneficial, the audience would be convinced. The rest of the speech will now be so much easier to deliver.

Compare this to a speaker with an audience comprised solely of people working within finance departments being greeted with the remarks ‘this initiative will allow us to reduce those working in finance areas by 50%'. It's not surprising that this is resisted at all costs!

Secondly - when you deliver this audience winning statement look them straight in the eye as you say it and see how the audience rapport builds as they look back at you. Feel the bond forging between the two of you as they do.

Thirdly - when you have finished delivering that winning statement pause briefly to allow the audience to absorb the statement and quite possibly shake their head in agreement.

Fourthly, rhetorical questions is a useful technique to passively engage the audience.

Finally, and for speeches lasting over 10 minutes; use humour to lighten the mood. This will ensure that the attention of the audience never drifts off.

Knowing that you have won an audience over is one of the best feelings in the speaking world.

Copyright (c) 2007 The College Of Public Speaking


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