Let’s step into the way-back machine . . . .
We’re going back to your high school English class, the day you began the unit on public speaking. Remember what your teacher told you are the three main parts of a speech?
Introduction, body, and conclusion, right?
Actually, that’s not quite true. In fact, there’s another major part of a speech or presentation that’s essential to your success. It’s the part the precedes the substance of what you’ll be talking about, though it’s no less essential to the influence you’re trying to achieve.
In fact, it’s critically important in that regard.
It's your greeting.
Since you’re there to achieve some positive change in your listeners, you need to know what audiences respond to strongly. Find out more in my free cheat sheet, “4 Characteristics of an Influential Speaker.”
Your Audience Greeting is a Priceless Opportunity
Too many speakers make an elementary mistake in their speeches and presentations: they focus more on information delivery than reaching their listeners. They think that providing the “data points” in their speech will give audiences what they need.
The truth is exactly the opposite: If main points were all an audience needed, they wouldn’t be listening to a speaker at all, and the speaking situation wouldn’t be necessary. Instead, the essential component of the speaker-audience dynamic is that the presenter explains and puts into context the material he or she is talking about—and even more important, lets the audience know why it matters to them. To be sure an audience is on your wavelength, learn why you need to start out with an audience analysis.
In other words, the relationship between speaker and audience transcends any information being transmitted. That’s because a speech or presentation is a performance. A speaker who isn't focused on that fact will deliver the type of presentation we see day in and day out: dry, lacking in human connection, and at a distance from the very people the speaker is there to influence. No presenter will succeed who has a better relationship with the notes on the lectern or the PowerPoint on the screen than the people in the seats!
Once you begin discussing the body of your presentation, your content will take precedence in the audience’s mind. That’s why your greeting is your priceless opportunity to establish a relationship with your listeners first.
How to Organize a Presentation
It’s time, then, to think beyond that high school lesson on “the three parts of a speech.” Your influence actually begins before your Introduction—with your greeting. Don’t make the mistake of leaving out this essential element of a successful transaction with your audience!
Why is your greeting so important? Here are five reasons:
1) It’s your first and best opportunity to establish rapport with listeners.
2) Your audience is paying maximum attention at this point.
3) Your credibility and the audience’s trust in you start here.
4) Your tone and “flavor” as a speaker are established now.
5) You either demonstrate that you’re going to be interesting . . . or not.
Think of it this way: all of the critical attributes of influence, leadership, charisma, presence, and credibility start at the moment you greet your audience and let them know who you are. To learn more about giving a powerful performance like this as a speaker, see my blog "The Churchill Method: How to Be an Exciting Public Speaker."
Bad Speech Choices and Good Ones
Consider how too many speakers open their talks: Because they’re nervous and self-conscious, they actually avoid the opportunity to connect with the audience. Public speaking is a form of community—a “we’re-all-in-this-together” interaction in which everyone shares a topic of mutual interest. Audiences want you to succeed, so they get what they’re looking for and feel good about the transaction, like buying something they really want from a friendly salesperson!
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The anxious speaker will usually do one of two things: plunge right into the material with no acknowledgment of the audience, or split his or her attention between the listeners and the notes or PowerPoint screen.
I saw this last week in the full-day Speak at Your Best! on-site workshop I conduct through The Genard Method for businesses and organizations. Among the executives giving a videotaped practice presentation that day was a speaker who queued up her first slide, and then divided her gaze frequently between the audience and the screen as she discussed her content.
How to Start a Speech the Right Way
What should happen when we present, of course, is this: after a glance at the screen to see that the correct slide is displayed, our attention should be completely on our listeners. Even more important: before that slide, we should be building trust with those we’re there to influence. Trustworthiness and credibility are watchwords of all public speaking. Once we establish both, listeners will be much more likely to open the doors of influence to us.
So spend some thought beforehand, and energy during your presentation to greet your audience effectively. Establish and maintain solid eye contact during at least the first minute of your talk. Memorizing what you’re going to say usually isn’t a good idea in public speaking, but that first minute (and at the other end of your talk, the last minute) are exceptions.
Avoid fidgeting and looking down at your notes as though they are your life preserver. Have a conversation with the people who really want you to talk to them, not throw information at them, and certainly not ignore them.
If you do this already, my congratulations! You’re resisting a Sherlock Holmes-like public speaking mistake: One with potentially far-reaching consequences, but elementary.
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