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Start Your Speech Out Right

Brian Tracy explains several ways that you can start a speech effectively. All are intended to engage your audience right off the bat so that you have everyone's full attention for the duration of your speech.

Thank the Organizers
You can start by thanking the audience for coming and thanking the organization for inviting you to speak. Refer to the person who introduced you or to one or more of the senior people in the organization in the audience. This compliments them, makes them feel proud and happy about your presence, and connects you into the audience like an electrical plug in a socket.

Start with a Positive Statement
You can begin by telling the audience members how much they will like and enjoy what you have to say. For example, you might say: "You are really going to enjoy the time we spend together this evening. I am going to share with you some of the most important ideas that have ever been discovered in this area."

Compliment the Audience
You can begin by complimenting the audience members sincerely and with great respect. Smile as if you are really glad to see them, as if they are all old friends of yours that you have not seen for quite a while.

You can tell them that it is a great honor for you to be here, that they are some of the most important people in this business or industry, and that you are looking forward to sharing some key ideas with them. You could say something like, "It is an honor to be here with you today. You are the elite, the top 10% of people in this industry. Only the very best people in any field will take the time and make the sacrifice to come so far for a conference like this."

Make a Thought-Provoking Statement about the Audience
Often when I am speaking to the members of an entrepreneurial or networking group, I will start off with, "Thank you very much for having me. I was just told that today I would be addressing a roomful of self-made millionaires."

After making this statement, I stand silently, smiling and looking around, allowing my words to soak in. I then continue by saying, "What I learned was that everyone here is either a self-made millionaire or intends to be sometime in the future. Is that correct?"

This opening always brings a loud chorus of "Yes!" Everyone smiles and agrees that his or her goal is to be a self-made millionaire. After this kind of opening, everyone is wide-awake, alert, and ready to hear what else I have to say.

Refer to Current Events
Use a current front-page news story to transition into your subject and to illustrate or prove your point. You can bring a copy of the newspaper and hold it up as you refer to it in your introduction. This visual image of you holding the paper and reciting or reading a key point rivets the audience's attention and causes people to learn forward to hear what you have to say.

Refer to a Historical Event
For many years, I studied military history. Especially, I studied the lives and campaigns of the great generals and the decisive battles they won. One of my favorites was Alexander the Great.

One day, I was asked to give a talk on leadership principles to a roomful of managers for a Fortune 500 company. I decided that the campaign of Alexander the Great against Darius of Persia would make an excellent story that would illustrate the leadership qualities of one of the great commanders in history. I opened my talk with these words:

Once upon a time there was a young man named Alex who grew up in a poor country. But Alex was a little bit ambitious. From an early age, he decided that he wanted to conquer the entire known world. But there was a small problem. Most of the known world was under the control of a huge multinational called the Persian Empire, headed by King Darius II. To fulfill his ambition, Alex was going to have to take market share away from the market leader, who was very determined to hold on to it.

This is the same situation that exists between you and your major competitors in the market today. You are going to have to use all your leadership skills to win the great marketing battles of the future.

Refer to a Well-Known Person
You can start by quoting a well-known person or publication that recently made an important statement. Here's an example: Today we are going to talk about why it is that some people earn more money than others. Gary Becker, the Nobel Prize–winning economist, wrote recently that almost all income inequality in America is the result of a knowledge and skills gap. In the next few minutes, I am going to show you how you can develop the knowledge and skills you need to narrow this gap and lead your field in the years ahead.

Start with Humor—Maybe
You can start a talk with humor, but only if you are naturally funny. You must be sure that the audience will interpret your story or joke as humorous. For this reason, you should try out your humor several times on other people to make sure that it works well. Only use humor if you personally think that the joke or story is funny, you can deliver it well, and the audience is likely to be receptive.

Some of the best professional speakers start with humor that is so pointed and appropriate that it cracks up the audience members and grabs their complete attention. But this is an art. It takes a special type of personality to use humor effectively.

Here is an important point. It is fairly easy to start with a joke of some kind. I used to do this to open almost every talk. Then I learned that my initial remarks set the tone for what is to come. If I start with humor, the audience assumes that my talk is going to be funny and entertaining. If I then switch into a more serious or thoughtful subject, people will often become confused and disappointed. Be careful.

Ask a Question, Conduct a Survey
You can open by making a positive statement and then asking a question requiring a show of hands. Try something like this: "This is a great time to be alive and in business in America. By the way, how many people here are self-employed?"

Raise your hand to indicate what you want people to do. I have used this line, and after a number of hands go up, I then say to someone who raised her hand in the front, "How many people here are really self-employed?" Invariably, someone will say, "We all are!" I then compliment and affirm the answer: "You're right! We are all self-employed, from the time we take our first jobs to the day we retire; we all work for ourselves, no matter who signs our paychecks."

Get Them Talking to One Another
You can ask people to turn to the person next to them to discuss a particular point. For instance, you could say, "Tell the person next to you what you would like to learn from this seminar."
Whatever you ask your audience members to do, within reason, they will do it for you. Your commands and your leadership will easily influence them, as long as you ask them with confidence.

The ability to start strong with any audience is a learned skill. Knowing how to structure an introduction and knowing how to take the stage can make or break your speech. And by finding ways to open your talk with greater warmth, friendliness, or impact, you can have the audience eating out of the palm of your hand within 30 seconds of beginning to speak. This is your goal.

Adapted with permission of the publisher from Speak to Win by Brian Tracy. Copyright 2008, Brian Tracy. Published by AMACOM, a division of American Management Association. For information about other AMACOM books, visit www.amanet.org/books

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