Guess what? You’ve got less than one minute to convince your audience that you and your message are worth the time.
Here’s the breakdown of what happens:
- First 15 seconds: The audience is adjusting to your voice — your speech rhythms, pace, articulation, and vocal energy. They’re also taking note (consciously or unconsciously) of your facial expressions, gestures, posture and manner of dress.
- Next 15 seconds: They’re starting to evaluate your content and looking for alignment between your actual words and the delivery of those words to see if they believe you.
- Next 30 seconds: If all goes well, they do experience that alignment and start connecting intellectually and emotionally to you and your message. In other words, they decide if they are interested enough to keep listening.
Here’s the challenge: Many speakers say they feel nervous in the first minute of a presentation, then they settle down and relax into their message. Nervousness shows up in lots of different ways: Filler (um, uh), lack of eye contact, shifting around in one’s chair or randomly walking around in the front of the room, etc. So, just at the moment when the audience is making up their minds about the speaker, the speaker may not be at his or her best.
What to do?
We recommend using the technique known as the Wrapper to lead into your subject matter. The Wrapper can be an opening anecdote, a quote from the day’s headlines, a personal story, an interesting fact, etc. Wrappers can be incredibly engaging as long as they follow a few simple rules. The Wrapper must:
- Clearly relate to the main idea of your presentation;
- Be concise and still complete;
- Not violate the etiquette of the company or situation.
If you think about really good presenters, especially in large forums like Town Halls or conferences, you might recall that they opened with an anecdote of some sort, but they were so smooth and engaging you probably didn’t even realize they were using a technique. Done well, the Wrapper makes the speaker seem natural, relaxed and confident. All it takes is a little thought, a little practice, and a dash of courage.
“That’ll never work with my group,” you might be thinking. I hear that a lot. “We’re all business around here.” In some instances, yes. However, it’s a myth to think that people always want you to get right to the material. How engaging is it to have a big blob of technical content dropped on your head? Not very. Unfortunately, this becomes the default when speakers are afraid of wasting people’s time, or they feel self-conscious when trying something different. Again, watch the great ones. Really efffective speakers have learned to overcome their own skepticism and self-consciousness in order to engage their listeners in that all-important first minute. And as long as you’re observing, watch the audience. Look at their faces. Notice how the speaker holds their attention. Then ask yourself: Do I want to have that impact?
Over the next few months, we’ll post some Wrapper examples on our website and YouTube channel for you. In the meantime, to help build your courage to try it, remember these two significant benefits of an opening wrapper.
- It engages the audience’s head and heart and warms them up to you and your message;
- It relaxes the speaker so that he or she is “in the go-zone” before beginning the actual content of their presentation.
If you decide to try it, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a note and let me know how it goes. If you are like my other clients, your audience’s reaction will make you feel like you’re flying!