Whether one stands in front of ten people or ten thousand people (or any number in between) to give a speech, the first few seconds are not only awkward but can also be a bit scary.
Most people who state they do not feel at least a few butterflies fluttering around in their tummy just before or right as they approach the podium are likely lying, no matter how many speeches/talks they have given. And, as a rule, the smaller the audience, the worst the nerves!
Part of the issue for speakers is deciding how best to grab the audience’s attention right from the beginning. How do you make what you are going to say seem more interesting/important than what the people in the audience were already saying or thinking about?
Sims Wyeth recently wrote an article on ways not only to get an audience’s attention but also how to sustain it. Below you will find ten tips on how to do both.
Begin with the unexpected – Starting a speech with a “bang” is essential. The speaker’s first words must ignite the imagination of the audience, thus introductory comments are important.
Make it about the audience – To capture their attention, remind the audience about emotions they may have felt which can be related to your topic. If possible, select a topic relevant to your audience.
Keep it solid at the beginning – Use language that appeals to the senses. Use storytelling as opposed to abstract reasoning or academic reasoning to help the audience absorb information.
Keep it moving – No, this does not mean for you to talk fast. It means to ensure your next piece of information builds on the piece before. Keeping the subject matter flowing helps both audience understanding and curiosity.
Get to the point – Audiences don’t want to wait a long time to figure out the point(s) of your message. Even if there is only one point to be made, make it early, emphatically and often.
Arouse emotion – Display your natural sense of humor, but do not force humor. You can also make a connection with the audience by confessing something personal.
Keep it interactive – Having a good give-and-take between a speaker and an audience sustains interest and encourages engagement. It also tends to promote good audience questions.
Write clear slide headlines – PowerPoint slides, if used, need headlines that express a point of view. Audiences will check out the body of the slide for points supporting a concise headline.
Keep it short – Be sure to stop talking before your audience stops listening.
Let there be you – Presenters will be more interesting and their effectiveness will be enhanced if they work tirelessly and energetically to keep their audiences’ attention. Audiences interpret everything speakers do: facial expressions, inner rhythm, posture, body language, etc.