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CONTENT

The Opening

After the Introduction, you begin your speech with the Opening. The Opening serves two purposes: • Grabs the audience’s attention. • Tells them what the speech will be about.

G R A B T H E I R AT T E N T I O N If you capture your audience’s attention from the get-go, it will be easier to keep it as you continue your talk. They’ll want to hear what you have to say. If they want to hear you speak, it’s more likely they’ll GET IT! The Opening of your speech is often the audience’s first impression of you. It should be strong. It will be one of the first things the 63


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audience remembers when reflecting upon your presentation. It sets the stage for everything that follows. Very quickly, the audience will be on the edge of their seat, either breathlessly waiting for more, or, if your opening isn’t a great one, waiting for the moment they can leave their seat and bolt for the exit! The opening should not be a perfunctory, “Thank you for inviting me,” or “I’m privileged to address you this evening,” or, “It is great to be back at ____.” Think of the Opening of your speech as the headline of a newspaper article. If the article grabs the attention of the reader, they’ll read further. If the audience likes your Opening, they’ll want to hear more. They will be paying attention. There’s only one chance to make a first impression – and this is it! Your goal here is to connect and engage your audience. The Opening should be strong, and there are a number of ways to ensure that it is: 1. Open with a question. Examples: • “What would you do if, when hearing the latest Powerball Lottery numbers announced, you suddenly realized you had matched all six?” • “Where were you on 9/11 and how did you first hear about the attack?” 64


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A tip about asking questions: When you raise your hand while asking, there will be a larger response than if your hand remains by your side. Increasing audience participation is a good thing when giving a speech! Another tip: After asking a question pause for a moment to allow the question to sink in a bit. This allows the audience time to start processing the question. Do this for a rhetorical question, also. 2. Present a famous quote. Example: • One of my favorite Abraham Lincoln quotes is: “Things may come to those who wait...but only the things left by those who hustle.” • You could then follow with, “Let me tell you about someone who hustles. . . .” Quoting from well-known people lets you tap into their message, credibility, and history. 3. Start with a story or anecdote. People love stories. I’m sure you’ve heard them as a child at bedtime, and told them as an adult. You, like me, can also remember sitting on the floor and listening to a teacher read a great story. Do your best to make this a personal story. Usually, this will mean it will be something they haven’t heard before versus the tried and true stories of others that get told over and over.

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Example: • “I remember sitting on the bus at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. It seemed like one of the lowest points of my life – waiting to start Army Basic Training. Suddenly, the silence was broken by someone shouting my name. I looked up and saw Barry, a good friend of mine from high school!” 4. If you have a special talent, you might use it in your Opening, but only when it is relevant to your speech. For instance, if you can perform magic, you could start with a trick. Maybe one of your magic tricks is making money disappear, and your talk is about the changing economy and what people can do to keep up with the changes. Perhaps you play an instrument. You might play a song. Here, again, this must be relevant to your theme. A funeral dirge and the benefits of planning and prepaying your own funeral could fit with your speech on the economy. 5. Use a Visual. A visual could be a prop, a picture, or you! Yes, you could come center stage, dressed as a symbol that has something to do with the core message of your speech. Example: • If you are speaking about the problems of the homeless, your costume might include wearing old clothes and carrying a garbage bag filled with your life’s possessions. 6. Make a declarative statement or give an alarming statistic. Let’s say you’re giving a speech about prostate cancer. Your Open66


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ing declarative sentence could be, “It is estimated that 186,320 men will be diagnosed with and 28,660 men will die of cancer of the prostate this year.” This could be followed by, “Let me see the hands, please, of all the men who regularly get checked for this treatable disease.” 7. Paint a word picture. No physical pictures equal what our minds can develop. Use words like, “Picture this” or “Just for a moment, imagine yourself…” We think in terms of pictures, so this Opening technique can be particularly effective. Example: • “Picture this. You’ve just taken your seat in English Class, and the professor says, “Class, clear your desks and take out a clean sheet of paper and pen.” What are your thoughts? 8. Suspense/Surprise Build suspense with the audience. Then, surprise them with a contrary statement. Example: • “In preparing for this presentation over a period of two weeks time, I took over 200 pictures. I then picked the 15 best ones, cropped and edited them to get the exact content I needed to make my points today, loaded them into a PowerPoint presentation - and then my hard drive promptly crashed!”

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9. Use something timely in your Opening. The use of recent material refreshes your introduction and shows the audience that you’re on top of your subject. A current event, if appropriate, can be used very effectively in an opening. If it’s print media you’re using, that item can also be used as a prop, and held up as you speak your opening words. Example: • “I noticed in this morning’s paper there was another shooting in the city – and the victim was only 14 years old! When, when, when – are we going to seriously address the handgun issue in this country?” 10. Do something unusual. Example: • I have a friend who told me the story of how she got into business for herself. It was the stress of the job she was in at the time, plus putting in far too many hours. She woke up in a hospital with tubes attached to her and the sound of the heart monitor that was next to her bed. The suggestion for Opening her presentation I made was to shake the hand of the Master of Ceremonies, walk to the lectern, pause, and hit the play button of a recorder. Immediately, the audience would hear: Beep - Beep - Beep - Beep - Beep - Beep - Beep - Beep - Beep. After 30 seconds of this she was to address the audience and say, “Who knows that sound? (Pause) What is it? After someone answers, “Heart monitor,” she could continue, “Right! (Pause) Picture this - It was . . . “ and start her personal story. 68


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Here are some Additional tips for your Opening that also relate to your total speech: Use vivid words. The more senses you involve and the more explicit the details you use in your presentation, the more attentive and involved your audience will be. Describing the taste, smell, and feel of something rather than just naming an object, makes the speech come alive for the audience. • Example: You don’t suddenly “feel like having a slice of pie.” » You do tell the audience about being in your bedroom, upstairs and “smelling apple pie as it bubbles over the homemade crust and onto the hot cooking sheet. Then you begin to salivate as you think about a scoop of icecold, Breyer’s French Vanilla Ice Cream melting on a huge slice. In your mind’s eye you see the ice cream transforming into a liquid as it settles onto the warm pie. You race down the steps toward the kitchen even before being asked whether you’re hungry!” Don’t start talking immediately when you’re introduced. Pause – and count silently to five. • The silence signals the audience to stop, look, listen, and give you their undivided attention. Smile before speaking Unless your presentation is a somber one, smiling indicates you are confident, and ready to present!

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Never, even if true, tell the audience you are unprepared for your presentation. Statements like that are self-destructive. The audience will not expect much from you, and you’ll probably meet their low expectations. If there’s humor in your opening, and it’s appropriate, and you can present it well – use it! Good humor will put the audience, and you, at ease.

T E L L T H E M W H AT Y O U ’ R E GOING TO TELL THE M Your audience wants to know what’s next. The program agenda, your introduction and opening all gave them an idea of what they’ll be hearing. This part of the Opening tells them what will follow. It’s important because it will confirm that they are in the right place to learn something they have an interest in. It’s also the place where you will tell them the structure of your talk and how you will handle questions they might have. The audience wants to know where they are going and how they will get there. If you were on a cross-country trip, and needed to reach your destination quickly, would it make sense to leave the highway and take roads that lead in different directions? Consider your presentation in the same, “Direct from here to there” manner. This may take some editing and reworking, but you don’t want the audience to wonder, “What has this got to do with the theme?” or

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“Why is he telling us that?” Example: This is one of the Tell Them What You’re Going to Tell Them elements of the Opening I use. “I’ll be presenting the Components, Parts, and Elements of No Sweat Public Speaking! I’ll name them, explain them, and give some examples. Next I’ll talk about the Fear of Public Speaking, and give some suggestions for easing it. I’ll give you some Bonus Tips for Developing, Practicing, and Presenting your talk. Next we’ll have some time for your Questions. Finally, I’ll conclude my presentation. Let’s get started!” Please review the above. It’s important, and often left out by speakers who should know better. It’s a very succinct and explicit roadmap that tells the audience exactly what they can expect from me. They know what, and when, I will cover particular things. They are also told specifically when questions will be taken. Telling them in this manner lessens hands being raised and/or questions being shouted during my presentation.

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The Body Now it’s time to “tell them what you’re going to tell them.” This is the main part of your message. This is the meat of your Content. Here, I’ll be continuing my discussion of the Components, Parts, and Elements of the No Sweat Public Speaking! Formula. As mentioned, everything about your presentation should be in sync. Everything should support the main theme. Again, there should be only one main theme. Everything in your speech should support that one main theme. In the Body, there should be three to five points that support the main theme. There’s a widely accepted formula for the Body that goes like this: Make a point – tell a story. Make a point – tell a story. Make a point – tell a story. All the stories should support the individual points, and all the points should support the theme. (Technical Presentations may not follow this formula, but could often benefit by utilizing parts of it.) For instance, when I speak about the 3 Ps of Selling, selling is my main theme. I then name the 3 Ps: Product Knowledge, Prospecting, and Persistence. As each point is named and explained, I tell a story that supports the point. 72


The Opening of a Speech