Don’t speak - the best way to hook an audience
Hook them or lose them.
The speech start is the single most important part of a speech. An opening line to grab attention puts the audience on the edge of their seat and gets a room filled with hundreds of strangers all interested in hearing what the speaker has to say next.
Or, it can dull the senses, increase boredom and lead to audience members sneaking out of the room so they can ‘miss the traffic’ to get home early!
What makes a great speechwriter?
The reason good speakers aren’t great speakers is they focus solely on the message of the speech. The speech message is important, and the main focus when writing a speech should be the message but gaining without effort creating a strong speech opening, the audience can be lost before they hear the speech message.
Once the message is clear and the middle section of the speech has been perfected, great speech writers return to the start. The focus is now on audience engagement – which hook will best engage this audience for this speech?
Props as hooks
The most commonly used prop is a PowerPoint presentation, but this overused visual aid no longer hooks an audience unless it is used effectively. Have you see, Bill Gates, when presenting uses the 1 slide 1 image rule, rarely does he overload his slides with text.
The barrier with a presentation is that the audience’s attention is taken away from the speaker and instead is on the slides. Physical props, therefore, are more effective. A physical object can be used to hook the interest of an audience while the focus remains on the speaker.
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Speakers don’t have to speak.
The worst offense a public speaker makes is starting the speech off with an introduction to themselves “Hi, my name is X and I work at Y, today I will talk to you about Z”
If you want to lose your audience, start your speech this way.
In fact, a speaker doesn’t have to say anything at all to win over a speech. A simple visual aid can be humorous and/or create intrigue.
Imagine a speech about personal change.
Most motivational speeches are stories that start with the speaker explaining a dark past, how they saw the light or made a significant change which resulted in them being reborn.
Instead of starting this speech verbally, the speaker could use a prop. Imagine a speaker is introduced to the stage, but, instead of walking on the stage and starting to tell a story about their past life, they slowly drag on to the stage, a heavy object.
At first, the audience cannot see what it is the speaker is dragging onto the stage. The speaker looks strained, dragging this heavy object, and as the speaker slowly pulls the thing into view, the audience gasps as they realise it is a dead body!
This dramatic entrance creates intrigue – who is the dead person? How did they die? How is the speaker linked to this person? Is the dead body real?
The dead body, or manakin, can be used as a metaphor for the speakers ‘dead’ younger version of themselves. But it is the unexpected prop at the speech start, that creates interest, this interest results in the whole audience wanting to hear the speaker’s story.
Props don’t have to be so ‘big’ or serious, in fact, a small humorous prop works just as well to create intrigue and interest.
In 2015, Toastmaster Mohammed Qahtani, walks on to the stage during an international speaking competition, looks slowly around the room, and without saying a single word, pulls a cigarette from his pocket.
As Mohammed goes to light the cigarette, some of the audience starts to chuckle at the unexpected act – no-one is allowed to smoke indoors, especially during an international speaking contest! Qahtani looks up confused, moving is head from side to side with an inquisitive look, he raises both arms and asks…’what?’ to the laughter of the whole audience.
It takes Mohammed 10 seconds to say his first word. But in that time he creates confusion, intrigue and laughter, hooking the audience in from the start. Later, Qahtani goes on to win the 2015 international toastmaster speech contest, becoming a world champion speaker.
Champion Public Speaker
Even though the message of the speech is the most important part of the speech writing process, serious time and thought need to be put aside to plan the speech start.
Props can come in all sizes and guises; PowerPoint is overused but an unexpected prop creates interest and intrigue. When made humorous, the audience will be on the speaker’s side.
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