Secrets to Paid Public Speaking Success #12 (of 101): 5 Tips to Create a Powerful First Impression

First Impressions Count - Make 'em Powerful!

First Impressions Count – Make ’em Powerful!

“I’m sorry, I’m not really used to speaking in public.. so please bare with me…”

“Hello!  Can everybody hear me in the back…?

We all heard such borring and no-impact openings… Never open with similar openings: check your VA equipment in advance and never start with an apology (unless you knock over someone’s hot coffee in your way to the lecturn and it lands in their lap; or if you step with your high heel on someone’s foot… you get the gist 🙂 )

The way you start your presentation, PLUS the way you look and carry yourself, will often set the tone for how you’ll be perceived throughout your presentation.  At times you can recover from a poor first impression, but why risk it?  Why not do it right each time…?

Here are 5 tips that will ensure that you’ll create a great first impression every time you speak:

  1. Have someone read your bio!
    Make sure your bio is more audience-benefit oriented.  Enumerating your degrees and accomplishments might feed your ego, but as Joel Bower says “Your ego is not your best amigo” – so keep it short and make it sound like you are the perfect speaker for this event.  Always customize your bio to fit your audience, highlighting how you helped other people “just like them” – just like your audience.
    If possible, never read your own bio, even if you have to ask an attendee to do it for you (I’ve done that once or twice in the past decade..).
  2. Dress for success!
    The key is to dress one notch above the audience; though for most events dressing up in a formal attire is the safe way to go.  You are looked at as an authority on you topic – gift your audience with the ability to listen and hear your message, and not get distracted by your attire (keep jewelry to minimum; ladies make sure your skirt and blouse are not too revealing, or else we guys won’t hear a word you are saying; wear cloth that make you feel powerful and confident)
  3. Project Confidence!
    Regardless whether you feel it or not, stand up straight, look your audience in their eyes and smile (unless you are the speaker at a funeral or you speak on suicide or other somber topics).  Confidence CAN be faked, no matter what some might tell you!  “You fake it till you make it” is a very valid saying when it comes to public speaking.
  4. Have a strong opening!
    Start with a great (personal) story… or some intriguing data.. or intriguing question…
    “On July 26,  2008, as I was driving down to one of my speaking engagements, enjoying the view on the winding mountain roads of  Montana, suddenly there was a THUMP! (use the microphone to create effects) – a rock of the size of a bowling ball fell on my windshield, cracking it into millions of pieces, blocking 100%  my view of the road … the rest of the events happened almost in slow motion… and I felt as if I was watching from outside as ran off the road and started heading towards some large pine trees….”Of course, your story needs to fit the theme of your topic.  Personal stories seem to be most liked, but others’ success or inspirational stories work as well…  One great technique is to tell your story only half way, then involve the audience and ask something like “How many of you found yourself  at a point in your life when you..” or something similar that relates to the story and to the topic of the day (as you ask, you raise your hand and leave it up in the air, till you get some response — you’ll get responses; your audience is there for the very topic you just mentioned in your question).  Then finish your presentation by getting back to your story and finishing it.  Your audience will be grateful that you did not forget about them and you did do not leave them “hanging” with an unfinished story/suspense…Or you could use one of the safest “powerful” openers and start with a famous quote: “Ralph Waldo Emerson said…”Intriguing questions are my favorites:
    “Did you know that…”
    “Do you realize that during the time I’ll speak, in the next hour or so, 200,000 people will die of a heart attack  in the United States… and about 70% of that could be easily avoided” [I made up those numbers – please don’t quote them]Involve the audience type questions:
    “With a show of hands (and you raise your hand and keep it up) how many of you are here today because you are frustrated with…”Be creative!  But do not be boring.  You’ve probably heard it many times – if not, you’ll hear it many times – Your audience will forgive you if you stammer or stumble here and there; heck, they’ll forgive you even if you forget what you wanted to say…  or if you trip and fall off the stage; but they’ll never forgive you if you are boring.  So make that first impression of your opening count!
  5. Use a confident voice and try to be upbeat!
    It is realy scary when a speaker starts his or her presentation on a monotone tone….  Smile, speak up, look people in the eye (find first someone with a friendly face, look him or her in the eye, then find someone else and look that person in the eye… and keep fanning out, till you cover the whole room — avoid speaking to one or two people!)

If you use the above 5 strategies, you’ll consistently generate a great first impression; which in turn will give you a great start to deliver your presentation with more confidence and poise.


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