“No-Nos” to Avoid at the Start of Your Speech

You’re standing in front of a group of fifty people. Your heart is pounding. Your palms are sweating. You’re about to begin your big presentation.  What you say next can put you on the path to success or set you off on a downward spiral that will make you and your audience miserable.

How can you ensure that you don’t start off badly?

At Speechworks, we tell our clients a few don’ts:

  • Don’t apologize.
  • Don’t tell a joke.
  • Don’t beat around the bush.

Don’t apologize

“Ladies and gentlemen, I want to start by telling you that I’m not really a very good speaker. And I’m really nervous. So I hope that you’ll bear with me.”

That’s the absolute worst way to begin.  You never want to start with an apology for your own anxiety or even worse, lack of preparation (“I’m sorry I’m a little disorganized this morning but I just got word that I was supposed to speak yesterday.”)  Apologies put the audience on the defensive.  Your audience thinks, “This is going to be another bad speech that I have to endure.”  You’ve now made it more difficult to connect with your audience.

To deal with anxiety, practice like crazy. And rehearse your first line over and over so that you can get through it well.  But don’t let that first line be “I’m so nervous.”

Don’t Tell a Joke

“I’d like to start this presentation with a line that Elizabeth Taylor would tell her husbands: ‘This won’t take long’.”

I actually heard someone begin a presentation with that horrible joke.  It’s not funny or relevant to the subject matter of the presentation. And some people might find it offensive (I apologize if anyone was offended by reading the joke here.)

But this joke is typical of most “ice breakers” that begin presentations. They aren’t funny. They are usually irrelevant. And they are often offensive.  As a result, jokes make you seem amateurish.

A far better way to begin a presentation is simply to lay out for the audience a key issue that they are facing in their lives. If you start by focusing on something that’s important to the audience, they’re more likely to want to hear more.

Don’t beat around the Bush

“Before I get started this afternoon, I have a lot of people I’d like to thank for inviting me.”

If you have to thank one or two people, then do so. But remember that no one is listening or cares. It’s a waste of time.  We recommend thanking your introducer briefly, pausing, and then starting right into the meat of your message.  People’s time is valuable. Don’t waste it.

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