John Ford once said, “ You can speak well if your tongue can deliver the message of your heart”. I believe that the ability to speak is probably the most important skill any individual can seek to develop. People never judge you by why you don’t say, they judge you by what you say and if you can say it well, it will influence people to have confidence.
Here are a few facts you must put to mind as you open a speech. First, your dressing is your first introduction. You will be addressed the way you are dressed. People will first see you before they hear you. You never have a second chance to make a first impression. Your dressing inspires confidence in both you and the people listening to you.
Second, your confidence is your next introduction. Displaying stage fright as you stand on the podium to speak will not give your audience confidence in you. You have got to deal with stage fright. Michael Mescon was known to have said, “The best way to conquer stage fright is to know what you are talking about”. Information births confidence and knowledge crushes fear.
There are three things to aim at in public speaking: first, to get into your subject, then to get your subject into yourself, and lastly, to get your subject into the heart of your audience.
Every speech begins with an opening or an introduction. A good introduction should: GET ATTENTION. If you don’t get it right at first, you will lose your audience. One of the ways to grab people’s attention is to begin with a story, especially a personal story.
A good story should: ESTABLISH THE CREDIBILITY OF THE SPEAKER. Credibility facilitates persuasion. Who is speaking? Why should the audience listen to you? You owe your audience those facts and details.
A good opening or introduction should: ESTABLISH RAPPORT. Let us assume you are speaking to a group of teenagers, you could begin by saying, “I know how it feels to be a teenager. I used to be a teenager. In fact I used to be a troublesome teenager”. What you are actually trying to do is find common ground to begin and establish rapport.
A good opening should PROVIDE THE SPEECH’S ROAD MAP. Where is your speech leading to? What is the purpose of the speech? Whet their appetite.
Another way to open a speech is to POLL THE ROOM AND WELCOME THE AUDIENCE. For example, you could say, “ How many workers do we have in this hall? Please may I see your hands up? How many business owners do we have? Hands up, please. What of students? Do we have students here?” That is what it means to poll. Once you identify these groups of people, you can welcome them. Polling also helps you know how you can tailor your speech to meet your audience’s need.
Here is another way: BEGIN WITH A BOLD CLAIM. For example, one could use this example: “What you are about to learn today in 45 minutes you will not learn in 4 years of university!” Now that is bold.
Another way is to : ASK A QUESTION. You see, question arrest attention. Asking questions engages the audience. Asking a question forces the audience to think. People’s minds may drift when you speak but their minds will fully concentrate when you ask a question.
My favourite way to open is to tell a story. Rocket Mckey once said, “ Stories are the conversion of life itself into a powerful, clearer or meaningful expression.” Stories are the currencies of human contacts. People may not remember what you said but they will remember the picture that is created through stories when you told them.
Patricia Fripp, a sales and communication expert once said, “People will resist a sales presentation but nobody will resist a good story well told.”