013 How to Open a Speech (the Answer May Surprise You)

013 How to Open a Speech (the Answer May Surprise You)

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A lot of speakers worry about how to open a speech. You will learn the phrases to avoid while beginning your presentation, and how to give your audience an amazing experience.

00:00 You’re listening to ‘Steal The Show’ with Michael Port. From speeches to job interviews to deal-closing pitches. How to guarantee a standing ovation for all the performances in your life. I am Michael. And this episode is about opening your show. How to start a presentation. Because I’ll tell you what, this is where people get really scared. What do you do to start? What’s the first thing you should say? How do you walk on stage? This is the most anxiety-provoking moment in a speech. And by the way, if you don’t know me, I am the author of six books, I am New York Times best-selling author, which is cool especially considering my fourth grade teacher said I had the worst spelling she’d seen in 25 years as a teacher and you could barely get me to write a five paragraph essay in high school.

00:47 But when you have something to say, you’ll do whatever it takes to get your message out into the world. And I believe you are that way. Now why am I teaching you performance? Because, yes I’ve written lots of books on marketing and sales over the last decade, in fact ‘Book Yourself Solid’ is probably my most infamous and best selling book over the last decade. But I was once a professional actor. I have a MFA from the NYU Graduate Acting Program at NYU and I was on “Sex and the City”, “Third Watch”, “All My Children”, I was in films like the “Pelican Brief”, “Down To Earth”, “The Believer”. I did voice-overs for brands like AT&T, Coors Beer, Budweiser, Johnson & Johnson, MTV, Pizza Hut, and others. And then raised to do Brawn that was it. I’d roll out the… Ahh… Brawn. Smart thinking. And by the way, none of these brands have endorsed this show unfortunately. But if you know anybody there or you work at one of them, call me and I’m happy to let you pay for all of these episodes. That would be fantastic.

01:49 So listen, opening. You see what I just did? I opened. Now I put my bio in there, I recommend never doing your bio yourself. That’s really key. Don’t do your bio yourself. Make sure somebody presents you. And if you’re lucky you can look through these episodes and you’ll see an episode on your introduction, your bio and prepping your presenter. But now that you’re on stage, how do you start? And there are a number of different openings that I have heard and I’m sure you have too, including, “I’m happy to be here.” But what’s the alternative? That you’re really pissed off that you’re there? Of course you’re happy to be there so show them. Don’t tell them. Or I’ve seen, “Now we only have a little time so I’m gonna… ” Oh my God. The audience is sitting there thinking, “Oh so I guess that means we won’t learn much.” Some other clunkers. Maybe an off topic story that doesn’t land, filler material or a joke that is not related to the topic, “I just flew in from Duluth. Boy my arms are tired.” Or maybe even a little audience interaction improv that isn’t guaranteed to work.

03:02 Now, sometimes the presenter will start with housekeeping notes. And by the way never use the word housekeeping. It signals to the audience that they don’t have to listen yet. And the bottom line is cut to the chase. If you’re happy to be there, show them. If you only have a little time, don’t waste time on filler. And your entrance, it seems like a huge moment because that’s when the audience sees you for the first time. However, you can take it easy. If you’re relaxed and can smoothly move right into your presentation, you’ll be fine. You don’t need to start with a story as it’s typically a cliche way to open a speech. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t but remember this is art, there isn’t one way to make it and you can’t start with a story if you know it will kill.

03:52 Just don’t spend too much time on the setup because the audience may get fidgety waiting to hear what they came for. Now self-effacing humor can work really well after a powerful bio because sometimes if the bio sets you up as super successful, very powerful, then they sit back with their arms crossed and go, “Alright, let me see what you got.” That happens with me often, especially ’cause I teach performance. People will sit back and go, “Alright let me see what you got.” So sometimes I’ll start a speech by saying, “Hey guys, lean in for a second.” And I have them lean in the front of their chairs. And if they don’t, if anybody doesn’t, I wait, I say, “Even you too buddy, come on. Come on big guy.” It’s always the big guy in the back who doesn’t wanna do it. But if you get him to do it then right there, the audience knows that you’re in charge of that room. And I’ll ask them, “How can you tell how much BS exists in any one particular field or industry?” Long pause. I stand up, cross my arms and say, “Count the number of books written about it.” And there’s a usually a little giggle and then I say, “Take leadership, sales, marketing.” And then another giggle. And I say, “And I’ve written six. So what does that tell you?” And then I get a bigger giggle.

04:55 And then I tell them, “And my point is, I’m gonna keep as much BS out of this as I possibly can, there isn’t one way to do anything. I’m gonna show you my world, view my perspective. What I found works, what I found works for my clients. If some of it resonates for you, take it, run with it. If all of it resonates with you, fantastic. If none of it resonates with you, sorry.” And then we go on and we have some fun. And that’s it. And then they go, “Ah, he’s gonna be easy, he’s gonna be chill, he’s gonna be relaxed.” And that really makes a big deal. So self-effacing humor can work after a powerful bio. But just keep in mind that there is a difference between self-effacing and self-destructive humor. I once heard a speaker attempting some self-deprecating humor at the start of her speech by apologizing to the audience because they had to listen to her. I was shocked. I nearly, literally… Well, I wouldn’t say literally, but I nearly fell off my chair. And I imagine you’ve heard the old adage, “Tell them what you’re gonna tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you’ve told them.” And it makes perfect sense and it’s completely appropriate in some situations. And it can even be helpful. But not all speeches need to open with a “Here’s what we’re gonna do today.”

06:04 Definitely, definitely stay away from saying “Here’s what I’m gonna talk to you about.” Most people want an experience. They don’t wanna be talked to. In fact, taking the audience on a journey that they don’t expect can be exciting. If the speech is good, you don’t need to tell them what you’re gonna tell them and then tell them. For example, when you see a movie, it really starts out with the cast telling you what’s gonna happen for the next 90 minutes and that everyone dies in the end. And I’m sure you’ve seen a movie trailer that ruined the movie for you. That’s what can potentially happen if you don’t walk a fine line. Now, that may be different when you’re doing a podcast or you’re doing webinars or teleseminars and conference calls, because they can leave at any time. And I suppose they can do that in a talk, but they’re less likely to. They’ll spend the first at least 15 to 20 minutes or so with you. If it’s terrible, then they’ll leave, but they won’t leave after three. On the webinar and podcast, conference call, et cetera, you may need to detail “Here’s all the takeaways that you’re gonna get.” That makes sense. I get that. That’s fine. But in an experience in a room, you can lead them on a journey, and it can be really exciting for them. They want to know what’s coming next, and they will wait for it. They’ll be excited for it.

07:24 So, I heard Andrew Sullivan give a TED talk, and he is one of the original members of DreamWorks, and he said when they work on a film, they think of the perfect film as a four, and their job is to give the audience two, and the audience needs to give them two. Because if they give them a four, they give them everything. They don’t make the audience work for their lunch at all. Then the audience just sits back, takes it in, and doesn’t engage with the film in the same way. But if they don’t give them enough, if they give them one instead of two, then the audience can’t keep up. They miss it. They can’t connect with it. So they want the audience to work for their lunch. So you want your audience to work for their lunch, but not so hard that it’s not worth it. There’s a balance between those two things. Now, for a business or an academic workshop, maybe it makes more sense to outline what’s gonna happen and when, including things like breaks and lunch, et cetera. People wanna know when they can use the loo. And for a curriculum-based presentation, there’s a little more call for “Here’s what we’re gonna do.” Now, in these situations, it’s not about approach. But there’s no rule that says you must follow this structure either.

08:35 The point is, just go into it easily. Don’t worry about the opening so much. Don’t worry about setting off fireworks or making a huge bang. If you can do that, if that’s the direction you’re going with your style of performance, fantastic. You wanna drive a car onto stage, have 20 clowns jump out of it, and then you’re the last one and you open your speech, fantastic. That’d be quite genius. I’d love to see it. Videotape it and send it to me. But it’s not necessary. You can just move smoothly into the speech and then build and build and build as you go, and then end with a big powerful close.

09:13 This is Michael Port, and I am strongly suggesting you go to stealtheshow.com, pick up a copy of the book, get lots of free bonuses. Oh, yeah. When you do a book launch, when you sell books, you’re trying to sell as many as you possibly can. So what you do is, you give away the store. You give away the farm, as it were. So we’re giving away up to $84,000 worth of products and services from Heroic Public Speaking Training. Even some ‘Book Yourself Solid’ training programs are in there. There are live events that you can come to just by buying a few books. So there’s a lot of different stuff you can get there. I would say go over to stealtheshow.com right now, or if you don’t want anything extra, just go to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, anywhere books are sold. Get yourself a copy. If you don’t wanna do any of that and just wanna go right to the public speaking, go to heroicpublicspeaking.com. We’ve got some free stuff for you there also that’ll make you a better speaker, 100% guaranteed. Either way, we’re always here for you. You can shoot us an email at questions@michaelport.com. You can call 414-FOR-PORT. That’s 414-F-O-R-P-O-R-T. Keep thinking big about who you are and what you offer the world, and open strong. This is Michael Port, signing off. Bye for now.

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