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How to Open a Presentation: Tell 'Em What You're Going to Say

Dale Carnegie told us how to open a presentation in public speaking.

Want some advice from the world's greatest public speaking expert? Here's what Dale Carnegie had to say about how to start a speech and keep audiences engaged:

 "Tell the audience what you're going to say, say it; then tell them what you've said."

Sixty years after Carnegie's passing, you'll sometimes hear communication professionals criticize this advice. Yet if ever a piece of public speaking scripture needed reinterpreting, it's that simple sentence of Carnegie's. Let's look at why that's the case.

When it comes to effective speaking, you don't want to spoil your great content by using words that will weaken your influence. Learn the list of words and phrases that will get in the way of your success. Download my free cheat sheet, "25 Words or Phrases to Avoid in Speeches and Presentations."

Tell the Audience What You're Going to Say

The people who criticize the "Tell the audience" three-part saying usually interpret it to mean: "Say something to your audience, say it a second time, then repeat it once more."

Apparently, these critics believe what Carnegie is saying is, "People need to hear something a number of times before it will sink in." No wonder they resist this practice! Any speaker who subjects an audience to unthinking repetition will, in fact, lose that audience's engagement. Here's how to be the kind of speaker who captivates an audience instead.

Yet Carnegie was an astute observer of human behavior—and he certainly did not want his followers to browbeat their listeners. Instead, the advice to "tell the audience what you're going to say" is essential wisdom if it means, "Frame your topic in terms of the audience's need, and tell them where you'll be going together."

Remember, audiences don't know where you as the speaker are headed. If you first give your listeners the "big picture" and then talk in specifics, you'll be the kind of presenter who allows audiences to relax and feel that they're in good hands.

Dale Carnegie said tell the audience what you're going to say, then say it!

Say It (Tell Your Story)

Next, tell your story, using examples, comparisons and metaphors, visuals, case studies, and other aspects of human interest to illustrate your points. What you're doing here, of course, is delivering the topic just as you've framed it in your introduction. That is, you'll be following up on the promise you made to your listeners in the first place. And learn how to conduct an audience analysis so you know exactly what your audience's needs are.

This portion of your talk is as simple, and important, as that.

Tell Them What You've Said

The standard advice for closing a presentation is to recap the main points in the body of your speech. It's true that you should do that — though it should always be done in a way that doesn't sound like you're just repeating information you've given earlier.

But you must do something more: you need to end vividly and memorably. If you don't, your presentation runs the risk of sinking out of sight amid the hundreds of other presentations your audience members are hearing. As opposed to those talks, you want what you say to resonate in their minds. In other words, you want your influence to continue working on listeners long after you've finished speaking.

Follow the advice above and, who knows, you may just win friends and influence people every time you speak! 

This blog was originally published in 2013.  It is updated from time to time.

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Gary Genard's e-guide on how to start a speech

Tell the audience what you're going to say, say it; then tell them what you've said. - See more at:
Tell the audience what you're going to say, say it; then tell them what you've said. - See more at:
Tell the audience what you're going to say, say it; then tell them what you've said. - See more at:

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