Allow me to introduce Brad Phillips, a media guru who knows how to convey the right messages to the right audiences. Before founding Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training communications firm, Phillips developed compelling stories for network and cable TV, including ABC's Nightline and CNN.
Of particular interest to readers of this blog is that Phillips has also worked closely with the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors to develop advocacy training on home fire sprinklers. His tactics make use of a survivor's voice, a powerful and poignant tool in the push for sprinkler requirements. Combining their stories with tips on crafting noteworthy presentations, effective advocacy, and media outreach, Phillips has helped develop an army of well-informed and convincing sprinkler supporters.
The NFPA team has brought Phillips on board as the Fire Sprinkler Initiative's newest blogger in the hopes that all sprinkler advocates might benefit from his expertise. Here is his inaugural post, which originally appeared on Phillips' Mr. Media Training blog. Let us know what you think!
Eight Great Ways to Open a Speech
Almost every speaker I’ve ever trained begins their practice speech the same way.
They walk to the front of the room, say good morning/afternoon/evening, thank the audience for coming, and express their delight to be there. Then they turn around and flip to their first slide, a bulleted agenda of what they plan to discuss during their presentation.
What a bore.
The opening minutes of a presentation are often the most important. According to Allan and Barbara Pease, authors of The Definitive Book of Body Language, the audience forms 60 to 80 percent of its impression of a speaker within the first four minutes.
Opening Number One: The Startling Statistic
Opening with a startling statistic is a terrific way of grabbing the audience’s attention from your first word. In order to be effective, the statistic should be related directly to the main purpose of your talk.
“Statistic” doesn’t mean the same as “data.” If you’re giving the audience a number, you should set it within a broader context to help infuse it with greater meaning.
For example, I occasionally speak to a group of part-time volunteers who are working to reduce the number of injuries suffered in house fires. I used this opening for one of my talks:
“I’m only going to speak to you for one hour this morning. During our hour together, someone, somewhere in America, is going to be badly injured in a house fire. By the time you begin lunch this afternoon, someone, somewhere in America, will die in a house fire. By dinner, another person will die. By the time you go to sleep, another person will die. As you sleep tonight, two more people will die.
I’m here today because I want to prevent that from happening. And I’m going to need your help.”
Opening Number Two: The Anecdote
A story, case study, or personal anecdote is perhaps the single most effective tool for transferring information from speaker to audience. In fact, Harvard Professor Howard Gardner once said that “stories are the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal.”
One of my favorite speech openings of all time came from Brian, a client who delivered a speech on a “boring” topic, new insurance products. But instead of putting his audience to sleep, he used a personal anecdote to give his talk greater meaning.
Brian told the story of a woman he met early in his career, a grieving widow named Pam, whose husband, James, had recently died. James had been sick and out of work for three years, so they had no choice but to stop paying his life insurance premium. As a result, Pam wasn’t going to get a penny from his life insurance policy, meaning she would struggle to make ends meet. But Brian discovered a loophole in the policy, and delivered a $100,000 check to Pam weeks later.
Brian then transitioned to the body of his presentation by placing that story in context:
“When I think about the power of what we do, having been to retirement parties, having sent those kids off to college and shown individuals how to pay for it, that’s very powerful. But nothing was more powerful than delivering a check in the face of tragedy. That mindset, for me, changed everything."
Visit Phillips' blog for additional tips on speech openers.
Media professional Brad Phillips has worked closely with the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors to help its advocates spread messages on burn injury and prevention, including the importance of home fire sprinklers. He is the author of The Media Training Bible and the Mr. Media Training Blog.