Hook your audience with your first words

When I spoke at the Rotary Club of Halifax, Harbourside, a man asked if the ‘old rule’ about public speaking was still valid. He was referring to the “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them,” structure.

I’ve written about this before, but it’s worth repeating. There’s nothing wrong with this structure. Audiences need to know where you’re going with your presentation. And summing up at the end is also good. Just don’t let this become a rigid formula. Formulaic speeches can be boring.

Most people do a decent job with the “tell them “ and “tell them what you told them” parts. Unfortunately too many people interpret the opening “tell them what you’re going to tell them” as an opportunity to recite a long list. “Today I’m going to talk about…” followed by a list of sub-headings that would test the patience of any audience.

The opening of your speech is the most important part. When you “tell them what you’re going to tell them”, you have to hook them. Get their interest. Show them, right from your first word, you’re an interesting speaker who has something valuable to offer.  You won’t do this by offering a shopping list.

So, think of a creative way to start your presentations. Perhaps a short story that makes a point which leads into what you’re going to tell them. A question. A quote. At all costs avoid a list. And please… never put up a slide with that list. That just confirms how tired the opening (and probably the rest of the presentation) will be.

Stop writing; start talking

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