To Iron Maiden’s fans! The best way to reach the venue of tonight’s concert will be the subway lines 1 and 5.
This message struck me on the subway platform some days ago. I was not going to the concert (shame on me), but for the first time in years I found myself listening to public transportation announcement. Imagine my surprise when some hours later I realized that I still remembered the information given in the message.
I won’t try to convince you that informative announcements are just another genre of public speaking. Still, for sure they have something in common: a message that tries to reach an audience and get attention. So, what can we learn from a subway announcement that clearly accomplished this mission?
In this case, the beginning made all the difference: instead of starting as usual with “Attention!”, in this case this announcement had a captivating opening, with some elements that we can apply also to our speeches.
Cut the commonplaces
Even if they don’t start by screaming: “Attention!”, speakers often use their first seconds on stage to deliver repetitive content, such as greetings to the audience or appreciation to the organizers. Imagine an average event, with three or four speakers. What would the audience think after being greeted and thanked multiple times? “Polite speakers, but so boring!” I am not suggesting you cut the good manners, but you can leave the politeness for later. The beginning of your presentation is the pivotal moment to capture the attention of your audience and shouldn’t be wasted in anything not fully functional.
Try something new
Even if an opening has been successful many times, it can’t work forever. Some of the suggestions on how to start your speech are extremely good – so good that they’ve been already used by everyone in every possible situation. “People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” Are you sure you want to be the umpteenth speaker to start a speech this way? Quotes, stories, jokes, questions to the audience are all great ways to kick off your presentation. But make sure you’re using them in a fresh way.
Talk to the audience
When opening your speech, you can refer directly to the audience. The people going to the concert probably paid more attention to the announcement because they were mentioned in it. By showing from the very beginning that you’ve done your homework and know who you are talking to, you make the listeners feel valued and you establish a bond with them. You can even take it to the next level and position yourself as “one of them”, explaining how you are part of the same group. A warning: do it only if it’s true – if you try to pass off as a heavy metal fanatic and they unmask you, your credibility is gone.
If four simple words can catch the ear of a distracted commuter, a well-crafted introduction will make miracles for your speech. So, avoid the conventional greetings, experiment new ways to address the room and acknowledge your audience. You will deliver a captivating opening that catches the attention and stands out of the crowd of all the boring subway announcements.
(Image by Alexandre Godreau on Unsplash)