Speaking in public: cut the chit-chat

If you’re a rock star, you get to have a warm-up act before you perform. If you’re speaking in public, chances are you won’t have a warm-up act to get the audience fired up and ready to receive your message.

It’ll be just you on that big stage or in front of the boardroom skeptics. And that can be intimidating.

There’s a natural tendency to want to ease in to the occasion. To break the ice. To say a few words in the hope of winning of hearts of the audience. And sometimes that just makes matters worse. The words come out as self-conscious, or stilted.

You’ve probably been on the receiving end of a badly-delivered (and not very funny) joke. Or you’ve felt alienated by a speaker who urges everyone to wave their arms and shout ‘good morning’ in unison.

After a few uncomfortable minutes, the speaker finally settles into the presentation or speech.

My advice is simple: don’t do it. Cut out the pump-priming process when you’re speaking in public. Get straight to work.

You are way more likely to engage an audience’s attention with something of substance than you are with mundane chit-chat.

When we have conversations, we often ease into them. We talk about some neutral topics like the weather or each other’s families before we proceed to our intended message. But you don’t have the luxury of this social preamble when you’re speaking in public.

You are competing for people’s attention in an age where we are besieged, bewildered and bewitched by information. Plus, people are busy, busy, busy. We’ve conditioned ourselves to expect instant gratification; to communicate in Tweet-sized bites, or to evaluate web pages in 2 seconds, or to constantly check our phones for updates to our social lives.

So next time you are speaking in public, don’t risk aliening your audience with unnecessary priming of your public-speaking pump. Instead, win them over by showing that you know your stuff, and you have good stuff to share.

Professional speakers don’t warm up their audiences. They craft a strong hook (opening), tailoring it for each specific audience. When they take the stage, they start delivering value-for-money with the very first word.

The pay-off is a happy attentive audience who know they’re getting great value, and a happy client who will bask in the knowledge that they hired a rock star speaker.