Speak Effortlessly with a Compelling Opening


Thrill your audience. Spark engagement with your ideas. Transform people’s views of the world.

That’s the promise of TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, out this month by TED curator Chris Anderson.

And it’s also the new bar in public speaking. It’s no longer acceptable to under prepare, to meander or to bore your audience.

With so many people taking in a steady diet of TED talks to enlighten, educate and entertain themselves, the bar is sky high for anyone who speaks in public.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a keynote speech for an audience of a thousand or a tabletop presentation to your colleagues. Using the strategies in TED Talks will help spread your ideas.

Elements have come in handy for me in everything from town hall meetings and operations reviews at work to city committee meetings and inspirational talks in my community. Not to mention a decade of writing speeches and presentations for C-level corporate leaders.

Speaking effortlessly ties into my recent posts on grit and on sprezzatura, the art of making the difficult seem easy. In his book, Chris Anderson does a terrific job of outlining the hard work it takes behind the scenes to give a compelling talk. One that might change the world.

Take openings, for example. You have to grab people from the very first sentence. The opening words or a talk are similar to the way you need to think about headlines, subject lines and the first line of an email message. You only get a few words to pique people’s interest, or cause them to tune out.

This month I was presenting to a live and web-based audience in a town hall meeting. The topic? Our team’s annual scorecard – the priorities, initiatives, metrics and targets we’re striving for this year.

It had the potential to be boring. How to capture people’s attention? For that, I turned to the chapter on “Open and Close: What Kind of Impression Would you Like to Make?”

According to Anderson, “you have about a minute to intrigue people with what you’ll be saying.” He encourages readers to “script and memorize the opening minute.”

Here are 4 ways he offers to start strong:

  • Deliver a dose of drama. Anderson suggests asking yourself, “If your talk were a movie or a novel, how would it start?”
  • Ignite curiosity. Here you can ask a surprising question or give a little illustration that piques an interest to hear more.
  • Show a compelling slide, video or object. These capture even more attention when you reveal something surprising about them.
  • Tease, but don’t give it away. “Channel your inner Spielberg” and imagine what will make your audience want to learn more.

So how did I start my scorecard talk? My current work focuses on metrics and measurement. But numbers alone wouldn’t engage or inspire my colleagues.

I thought about how to link it with our bigger purpose. At our annual leadership kickoff meeting, our technology leader talked about the magic our team creates every day in marketing a storied, nearly 140-year-old company.

And there it was – the dramatic contrast of measuring magic.

“If you think you can’t measure magic,” I began, “I’m here to show you how we’ll do just that.”

Yes, the opening may have given too much away. But when a few people mentioned the magic reference to me later that day, I knew it had been a good way to start.

Equally important is how you close. And everything you do in between. I’ll explore those in future posts.

For a spine-tingling close, check out Brené Brown in her TED talk, The power of vulnerability.

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Caroline Leach

Hi, I'm Caroline Leach. I help people and organizations tell their stories. I'm a Marketing VP at AT&T, a former Communications VP at DIRECTV and an alum of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. This blog, How to Build Your Career through Social Media, shows you how to build your personal brand, advance your career and embrace your future. It helps you promote your employer and your network too. Opinions expressed in this blog are my own. Your comments are welcomed and encouraged. I'd love to hear from you!

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