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The first ten seconds of your speech (happen before you open your mouth)

February 13, 2020

Create a relationship with the public and enhance your speech even before you start it.

9 min read

The opinions expressed by employees are personal.

The first ten seconds of your speech (happen before you open your mouth)The first ten seconds of your speech (happen before you open your mouth)

I remember it clearly: my first public speaking contest many years ago. Do not; I will not say how many years ago; but it is true that I was in high school, and I looked forward to my turn to go before the judges. The first contestant was a girl from some other school, impeccably combed, who took the stage very, very nervous, playing with her hands, shaking her knees; With your head down, walking as if you were taken to the scaffold. There was no doubt: I was terrified.

When the judges gave him the indication: “You can start”, this girl was transformed before my eyes: she raised her back, composed the footprint, fixed her gaze and wielding the microphone like a war bow, began her speech .

It was as if they were two absolutely different people: the frightened girl, and the great speaker.

I do not remember if that girl won or lost the contest (how did it go to me? Yes I remember: I lost ), but that image has accompanied me for decades, and I have seen the scene replicate again and again in different environments: in “expert” speakers and business leaders who take the stage; in performers of different types and in most of the reality music show contestants.

We have been taught for years that your speech begins when you start talking, with your first words. But this is a mistake: your speech begins when you enter the room .

It is a phrase known to all; But it is not entirely true. In fact, we can change our opinion of a person after meeting him or after an event that changes our perception. Who remembers (and who does not remember?) The audition of the Scottish Susan Boyle in Britain's Got Talent in 2009 can not deny it. When she entered, everyone thought she was a loser. When he started singing … the reaction changed completely. Of course, being on the show guaranteed her the opportunity to show her voice. The real world is not always so generous.

The correct thing is to say that the first impression is very difficult to change . On stage, where we have just a few minutes to connect and convince, the first impression matters, and matters a lot . According to Jack Schafer, former FBI agent and author of the book, what we know as “first impression” lasts an average of seven seconds; and it is a space where we intuitively decide three fundamental things.

  1. If the person is a threat or not (and, therefore, if one has to flee, or not).
  2. If the person is from “our tribe” and we can trust her.
  3. The relative hierarchy of that person within our tribe: their level of authority, success or wealth; and if it is “above” or “below” us in that hierarchy.

That is why in almost any negotiation course, the key moments of every encounter are emphasized; like the way we shake hands; the order in which we greet people and the way we dress in reference to others. We also notice the look, smile and attention we pay to the other person. All this happens before we start talking in a social situation. And, although many forget it, also in a public presentation or speech.

Before you start talking, if the public has seen you for at least seven seconds, then you have already decided if you are “of his tribe”, if you are a threat and if you have any kind of authority . Take advantage of those seconds before you start talking to make a great impression and give your own words a huge boost!

Here are some ideas you can take into account:

1. Nervous? Do what you have to do before appearing in the room

There are different techniques to overcome scenic panic or nervousness. In addition to these, different people have different rituals: jumping, dancing, going around. When I'm nervous, I usually sing. Everyone does what they can. We also have visual, involuntary, nervous signs, such as walking from one place to another, hunching your shoulders or holding your hands. There is nothing wrong: it happens to all of us.

Anyway, try to do all this outside the room or the auditorium, and take composure before the public can see you. Master your first impression and leave all the stress out.

2. Do not enter the room until it is your turn to speak

One way to facilitate this transition is to wait outside the room, just until you are announced, or have to deliver your speech. That way you maximize the powerful effect of the first impression ; the public sees for the first time how you dress and how you move; and it is easier to keep the act for ten intense seconds than for minutes, or hours.

It is not always possible to do this. At a dinner or ceremony, many times you will be in the room long before you start talking. If so, try to keep a low profile for the time before your speech. Let each person “notice” that you are there until the moment you make your triumphal entry.

3. Walk quickly and dominate the room

The posture is an impressive message. Good posture conveys confidence; and trust conveys authority. In the minds of the public, those who exude confidence surely do so because they dominate their subject and also tell the truth. Audience perception for someone nervous and insecure is inevitable; It can only have two causes: either the speaker does not know what he says, or is lying.

Walk safely, in strong, relaxed steps, and treading with the entire sole. He throws his shoulders back and lifts his chin. Fill the room with your presence and never, but never, apologize for taking the stage. If what you are going to say is worth it, why ask for forgiveness? And if it's not worth it, it's better not to take the stage.

4. Watch all your audience before you start talking

Remember that communication is, above all, relationship. And the fastest and most effective way to achieve a relationship is contact. Physical contact is immensely powerful, but it is unlikely that you can physically touch your entire audience (although politicians do not hesitate to try). The second best is eye contact . From the first moment you set foot in the hall or the stage, direct your gaze to the public: connect direct glances to the eyes of the closest audience; shake your head, smile broadly.

The look, the smile and the slight greeting with the head are the universal sign of belonging , and immediately convey friendship, trust and connection: you are telling people: I am not only confident, but I trust you; We are from the same team, the same tribe, the same family. We are together in this.

So do not run. As in a family dinner, say hello to your aunts before sitting at the table. It won't take you more than a few (and almost imperceptible) seconds, but it will make all the difference.

5. Take a second or two before your first word: wait for silence

Finally, never start talking until you have a minimum of attention. Do not try to “beat” the screaming noise, or throw yourself to declare your speech while everyone is talking. This is especially difficult in open auditoriums, and a real challenge if the public is eating. Whatever; Position yourself in front of the microphone, say “good morning” with a lot of confidence and optimism and wait a few seconds until people keep silent and pay attention. If necessary, say “good morning” one more time. This is absolutely critical: your authority demands silence.

When people have paid attention, then yes, you can start your spoken speech, following a well developed structure and using all the tools you have at hand. But never forget: the first ten seconds of a speech … happen before you open your mouth.

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