Friday, April 16, 2010

How to lose your starting advantage as a speaker

Speakers hold a great set of advantages as they begin speaking.  Your audience's attention may never be higher than at this moment, and it's possible to craft a strong, fast start that takes advantage of--and hangs onto--that attention throughout your talk.  More often, though, speakers lose or give away their advantages as soon as they start speaking.  Here are the missteps to avoid at the very beginning of your speech or presentation:
  1. Extensive thanks, credits and glad-to-be-heres:  Speaking anxiety prompts many speakers to back into their remarks by thanking the hosts and explaining that they are pleased to be present--remarks that are just as redundant as wearing a nametag when you are the speaker.  We know you're glad to be here, otherwise you wouldn't be speaking, and you can thank the hosts personally later. Talk to your audience first.
  2. Telling a joke or showing a cartoon, especially one not related to your remarks:  Aside from taking precious time away from your remarks--the reason we're listening to you--the off-topic joke or cartoon benefit the speaker more than the audience, by delaying the advent of what they're fearing most: Having to speak on their own.  And since jokes are especially hard to remember for most people, you risk stumbling at your most visible moments.
  3. Announcing you are not going to follow the time constraints:  I don't care how you sugar-coat it ("I have so much to share" or "This group deserves the full story").  If you start your talk by announcing that you know you only have five minutes but you're likely to go over, you've just disrespected the time of everyone in the room.  Keep in mind that audiences like to anticipate that they'll have time to contribute, ask questions or rebut your remarks.  When you tell us you're going to exceed your limits, you set my teeth on edge right away.
What other disastrous--but avoidable--starts have you heard from speakers? Share them in the comments.

Related posts:   Attention! Why speakers need a strong, fast start

The science behind joke-tellers' memory problems