Every year I tell dozens of San Francisco executives and Silicon Valley speech coaching clients “Your first thirty seconds of your executive communications are like the first page of a book or first seconds of a TV show or film. If you don’t make an impact and hint at more to come, you lose your audience.”
Good movies, TV shows, and books, like good speeches, often open with a “flavor scene,” grabbing attention and positioning the audience for what is to come. Take Gone with the Wind. Neither the book nor film opens with a discussion of the causes of the Civil War. Both start with Scarlett O’Hara sulking that impending war might interrupt her social life. Immediately, the author establishes the character of the frivolous heroine and hints that all hell is about to break loose, making us eager to learn more.
In David Freeman’s screenwriting seminar, he tells of 16 ways to make the first three pages of a film or TV script “kick ass.” If they don’t, producers don’t read the rest of the script. If they don’t read it, they don’t buy it and they don’t make it. If you lose your audience during the opening of your speech, you can’t get them to buy your ideas and use them.
Your opening is your “flavor scene,” grabbing attention and positioning your audience for what is to come—or tricking the audience and thus really capturing their attention. Imagine a film starting with two lovers strolling by a romantic lake. Then, suddenly, Jason leaps out of the bushes with a huge knife. The audience thought a romance was in progress, and suddenly they are in the middle of a slasher movie.
Mike Powell, when he was a senior scientist at Genentech, grabbed the interest of a Continental Breakfast Club audience by beginning: “Being a scientist is like doing a jigsaw puzzle, in a snow storm…at night…when you don’t have all the pieces…or the picture you are trying to create.” Everyone sat up and paid attention, even those who had been prepared to zone out during a technical presentation.
Relate the first thirty seconds of your speech to the first paragraphs of a book or scene of a movie. Your opening flavor scene doesn’t have to lead where the audience expects it to, but it must make an impact and it must tie in to what follows.
Patricia Fripp’s next speaking seminar open to the public is in Las Vegas, February 25-26, 2012.