Grab Your Audience! 3 P’s of Speech Introductions

Do you want to hook your audience right at the start of your speech?  Do you want to have them leaning forward with interest?  Do you want to have an approach to introductions that you can apply to many speeches?

Today you will learn an effective, time-tested pattern for speech introductions that will grab your audience’s attention and create a desire to hear more.

There are 3 easy steps, 3 P’s, of effective speech introductions:  a little Pep, a big Promise and a clear Path.   Get their attention (pep), tell them how they will benefit (promise) and preview how you will get them there (path).

Pep:  Grab your audience’s attention by opening with questions, startling statements, a quote, a poem, a story or a joke (although be careful with jokes—only use one if you know it will work).  See the 5 previous Talking Points for information on openings.

Promise:  Tell your audience how they will benefit by listening.  Remember, everyone is tuned into their own radio station, WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?). How will what you are about to say make their lives better?

Path:  Give your audience a preview of where you are going to take them. This primes your audience and also gives your speech some organization!  They can “take away 4 tools,”  “learn 3 steps,” “gain 3 benefits,” etc.  I wouldn’t have more than 5 “take-aways” in most speeches.  Three is ideal.

This approach will work for many speeches, but most especially for workshop speeches.

If you’d like an example, take a look at the opening of this short post.

Pep:  Do you want to hook your audience right at the start of your speech?  Do you want to have them leaning forward with interest?  Do you want to have an approach to introductions that you can apply to many speeches?

(Actually, the “Pep” is also implied “Promise,” but I do have a promise statement, too).

Promise: Today you will learn an effective, time-tested pattern for speech introductions that will grab your audience’s attention and create a desire to hear more.

Path: There are 3 easy steps, 3 P’s, of effective speech introductions:  a little Pep, a big Promise and a clear Path.   Get their attention (pep), tell them how they will benefit (promise) and preview how you will get them there (path).

Try the 3 P approach in your next speech introduction!

Opening and Closing your Speech with Jokes

Wouldn’t you love to get your audience laughing at the start of your speech or leave them laughing at the end?

Jokes can do the job, but use them with caution!  If you are using someone else’s material, you need to give credit.  The joke needs to be relevant to your presentation  (I hate it when presenters just tell a joke for a laugh, but it has nothing to do with their topic or the audience). Don’t tell offensive jokes.

Top tips on practicing and telling jokes:

1. Use funny material.  Did you laugh when you heard it?  Did other people laugh?

2. Remember it.  Record it.

If you just heard a joke and want to remember it, try writing it down right away.  You can also tell it into your cell phone’s voice recorder, which also gives you your first shot at telling it!

Save it in a joke file on your computer.  Or, if you have a blog, use it in your blog, but make sure it is relevant to your topic.

3. Rehearse it. 

I suggest starting out with short jokes—a short set up and then a punch line.  For longer jokes, visualize all the characters as you practice the joke.  Use body language as appropriate (moving your body will help you remember).  Practice the pacing. Don’t rush it. Remember to pause a little before and after the punch line.

Set up . . . (pause) . . . punchline . . . (pause)

If people laugh after the punch line, pause long enough to allow them to laugh.  Don’t step on the laughs.  Milk the laughs with your reaction—just don’t say anything.  Let your body and face do the talking!

If people don’t laugh after you have paused for a couple of seconds, you have a couple of options:

Option A:  If it was very obviously a joke, you can make a self-deprecating comment such as, “Well, my cat thought it was funny.”

Option B: Just move on.  Don’t react at all.

4. Practice in front of others. Practice on friends and family.  They will love you even if you bomb.   Nothing takes the place of practicing in front of others.   Record yourself if possible.  If someone laughs even a little, you can build on that.  Maybe you can punch it up with attitude and body language or just change a single word.

“Words with a ‘k’ in it are funny. Alkaseltzer is funny. Chicken is funny. Pickle is funny. All with a ‘k’. ‘L’s are not funny. ‘M’s are not funny. Cupcake is funny. Tomatoes is not funny. Lettuce is not funny. Cucumber’s funny. Cab is funny. Cockroach is funny — not if you get ’em, only if you say ’em.”

said by a character in Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys

 5. Sell it!  Tell the joke with ATTITUDE.  You must be very sure of the content, the order, the timing and most especially, the punch line.  If in doubt, keep it out!

Try out some jokes–it does get easier with practice!

Stories: Opening and Closing Your Speech with a Story

Stories are my personal favorite way to open a speech.  Stories touch our emotions and linger in our mind. Stories are a powerful way to captivate and connect.

Stories captivate us because we think in stories.  We can’t help it!

“Stories fill our lives in the way that water fills the lives of fish.”~Steve Denning

Stories connect because stories touch our emotions.  Tell stories that elicit one or more of the 7 basic emotions:  happiness, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, contempt or surprise.

Stories also connect because they are concrete.  We create visual images in our own brains when someone tells us a story.  Stories create a virtual mind meld

And, perhaps most importantly, people remember stories! In the book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, the authors tell a story about a class that one of them teaches.  Bottom line: Stories get remembered about 13 times better than statistics. Facts tell, but stories sell!

Also, when you place a story at the beginning or end of your speech, you also are taking advantage of of the primacy and recency effect of memory.  We remember best what we hear at the beginning and ending of information.

9 tips for storytelling:

1.  Use a storytelling format that leaves your listeners leaning forward.  A story usually only is interesting if there is CONFLICT.  Here is a standard story format:

(Main character) is in (Circumstance/setting) and needs to (Goal), but faces (obstacles/opponents) when (Climax/conflict at a high point) until (resolution—obstacle or opponents are overcome).

2.  Don’t always make yourself the hero in a story.  People will think you are arrogant.  Some of the most effective and endearing stories are when the teller discloses some personal flaw (but don’t get uncomfortably personal).  You can also reveal your own character (which is a quick way to build trust and intimacy) in your stories where you learn a lesson from someone else or are a supporting character.

3.  Ditch the back-story.  Provide just enough background to make the story relevant or understandable.  Get to the conflict as quickly as possible.

4. Don’t provide all of the details.  Let your listeners fill in some of the details with their own imaginations.  As the 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking, Craig Valentine says, “People buy-in to what they create.”

5. Limit narration.  Use just enough narration to set up dialogue.  Dialogue is the heart of an engaging oral story.  Make your characters come alive through dialogue.

7.  Be dramatic—the number one drama tool in storytelling:  the dramatic pause. Pause a couple of seconds before a climatic situation to heighten the feeling of anticipation.  “To be or not to be?”  (pause, pause)  “That is the question.”

8. Use primarily your own, personal stories!  They are uniquely yours, even if you are relating a common experience.  Especially good ones can be your signature stories. However, I am partial to using stories from popular movies to set the stage or provide an ending to a speech. But be careful in using stories from other sources (if you do, give credit).  They can be overdone. Please, please don’t tell The Starfish Story.

9. Act it out!  Let your facial expressions convey emotions. Get your body into the story.  Don’t just say “we pushed the car out of the ditch,” but actually act out at least the hand gesture of pushing.

To improve your storytelling ability, think “don’t tell, show.”  People will remember what they see more than what you say.

Tell a story!

How to Use Quotes and Poems to Open and Close Your Speech

The audience gazed in anticipation as I stood before them holding a large black cloth draped over my arm.  Then I threw the black cloth over my head.  After a brief pause, I quoted the opening lines of an Emily Dickinson poem:

“I’m nobody. Who are you?

Are you nobody, too?”

I then paused, and removed the cloth and continued with the rest of my speech.  The speech was about noticing the people around us.  It was for a Toastmaster contest several years ago.  I didn’t win (I think shrouding my head and face not only might have broken my eye contact with the audience, but also might have been too contrived).  However, quoting the poem, one of Emily Dickinson most famous poems, was a hit!

If you use a poem or quote to open or close your speech, you can inspire, motivate or challenge people with someone else’s words.  If the quote or poem is famous (and not too long!), you can tap into the audiences memories and associations with the words and transport them to the message of your speech in a powerfully moving way. The words may carry an emotional charge beyond their meaning.  For me the Emily Dickinson poem, “I’m Nobody” transports me to when I was a nobody in junior high school, and frankly, rather liked being a nobody.

The internet makes it easy to find quotes and poems!  Here are just a couple of sources:

Search for quotes by topic at Brainy Quotes.

Search for poems by topic at Poem Hunter.

Here are a few guideline for using a poem or quote:

  1. Short. Generally use short excerpts from longer works.
  2. Relevant. It must be relevant to your message.
  3. Attributed. Give credit.  If the author is unknown, you can say, “Someone once said . . .”  Don’t say the author is “Anon” (Anon= anonymous.  This is probably obvious to almost everyone, but I was at a high school speech contest and two of the contestants said their quote was by “Anon”)
  4. Pause. Pause before and pause after the quote, to give people time to absorb it.
  5. Practice!  You are using someone else’s words which may trip up your tongue if you don’t practice.

A fine quotation is a diamond on the finger of a witty person, but a pebble in the hands of a fool.  ~Author Unknown