The Art of Speaking  

When speaking in public, hook your audience from the start

Start speaking with impact

YouTube Wade Paterson

I have less than eight seconds to capture your attention with this month’s column.

In fact, you’re probably already considering clicking away from this article and reading one of the many intriguing headlines Castanet is offering you up at this very moment.

As speakers, we have approximately the same amount of time to capture an audience’s attention when delivering a speech. Therefore, it’s essential you hook your audience right from the start.

This month, I’m going to provide you with four ways to deliver a powerful introduction as part of your next speaking opportunity.

What not to do

Before I share four powerful speech introductions, let’s talk about what not to do when speaking in front of an audience.

The first thing to avoid is being surprised by the volume of the microphone. You’ve probably seen this many times before—an amateur speaker grabs the microphone, begins talking and then says, “Whoa, that’s loud!”

Of course it’s loud, it’s a microphone! To avoid doing this, see if you can do a mic test prior to giving your speech so you familiarize yourself with having your voice amplified.

The second thing to avoid is doing the standard introduction—“Hi everyone, my name is Wade Paterson and I’m the best man at this wedding.”

By wasting the first few moments of your speech with an unnecessary introduction, you’re taking away the opportunity to capture your audience’s attention. You’ve probably already been introduced by the MC of the event, so there is no need to waste any time saying your name; rather, dive right into the great content.

Hit your audience with a powerful statistic

“Eighty per cent of videos on social media, are viewed without the sound on.”

“Only 13% of employees say they actually feel engaged at the workplace.”

“The average human attention span is eight seconds.”

Each of those statistics is powerful, surprising and set the tone for what the speech is going to be about.

By delivering a powerful statistic as the first sentence of your speech, it disrupts the norm. As mentioned earlier, most speakers start by introducing themselves, but if you walk on stage and hit your audience with a powerful stat, they are going to be drawn into your speech right from the beginning.

If you decide to use a statistic as part of your speech introduction, ensure you know the source of the data and that the stat is accurate. And only use a fact or figure that is relevant to the rest of your speech.

Ask a thought-provoking question

“Are you happy?”

“What does success mean to you?”

“If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?”

Starting your speech with a thought-provoking question forces your audience to use their brains immediately and think about how they would answer the question. By engaging your audience this way early, they are more likely to stay focused throughout your entire speech.

Similar to the previous tip, make sure the question you ask is relevant to the overall theme of the presentation.

Tell a story

Storytelling is one of the most powerful tools we have as public speakers.

By jumping into a story with the first sentence of our speech, we immediately tap into our audience’s imagination as they visualize what we’re describing from the stage.

I’ve seen many speakers tell stories midway through their speech, which is completely fine, but by starting your speech with a story, you have the chance to do something very original and draw your audience deep into your message in a way they’ll remember.

Bonus points if your story is humourous. If you can get the audience to laugh early on, they will relax and pay closer attention throughout the entire speech. And you will relax and gain confidence knowing the audience is enjoying themselves.

Do something unique

My favourite speech introduction is by Sarah Kay, with her TED Talk: If I should have a daughter.

Sarah opens her speech by reciting a poem, which lasts about three minutes and 30 seconds. When she says the final words of her poem, the entire audience rises to their feet and gives Sarah a standing ovation.

Because Sarah’s approach is so unique, there’s a bit of healthy tension that’s built up during those first three-and-a-half minutes. You can tell the audience is initially unsure how to react. But as Sarah confidently continues, she draws her audience in deeper and deeper.

For those of us who aren’t poets, there are other ways we can do something unique. If you’re musically inclined, you could start your speech by singing part of a song, or playing an instrument (as long as it can be tied into the overall message of your presentation). I’ve even seen speakers start their sessions by doing a magic trick, or painting a picture while they talk.

If you have a creative talent, consider tapping into it as part of your presentation.

As a bonus tip, a powerful way to conclude your speech is by making it come full circle.

For example, if you delivered a powerful statistic as part of your introduction, consider repeating that tip as part of your conclusion, while summarizing the points you gave in your speech. If you opened with a question, ask that question again, but perhaps tweak it based on the information you provided in your presentation. If you told a story, end your speech by referencing that story once again.

Speeches that come full circle have an impactful cohesiveness, and make the audience feel as though you’ve taken them on a fascinating journey.

If you’re thinking about joining Toastmasters to improve your public speaking skills, our Kelowna AM Toastmasters Club is always looking for new members.

If you’re interested in learning more about Impactful Communication, subscribe to my YouTube channel.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Tips from a world champion public speaker

Speaking of champions

YouTube /Wade Paterson

Growing up, Mohammed Qahtani rarely spoke.

His reluctance to communicate stemmed from a traumatizing experience he had in Grade 1. Mohammed’s teacher placed a book on his desk and asked him to read to the rest of the class. Despite having a speech impediment, Mohammed did his best to read the words out loud, however, he couldn’t hide his stutter.
His teacher slapped him across his face.

“There is no hope out of you,” he said.

Decades later, Mohammed would go on to be crowned Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking.

I had the chance to learn about Mohammed’s remarkable story during an interview for my new podcast Keys from Keynotes. The goal of the podcast is to tap into the knowledge and expertise of some of the world’s best public speakers, and share what gives them confidence from the stage.

Mohammed’s transition from being unable to speak without stuttering to becoming world champion took years of perseverance in the face of ridicule.

During his last year of high school, a classmate challenged him to face his fear head on and volunteer to read the morning announcements for the school. Mohammed took his classmate’s challenge. It was a disaster. Four hundred students laughed at Mohammed as he stuttered through the announcements the next morning.

Frustrated, Mohammed confronted his classmate later that day and asked him why he would allow him to be humiliated. His classmate responded with words that would stick with Mohammed throughout the rest of his life: “Success doesn’t happen the first time. Go back and try again.”

Mohammed read the announcements the next day. And the day after that. And while he struggled each time, he noticed small improvements, so he kept going.

In 2009, he joined Toastmasters. At that point, he had overcome his fear of speaking and actually enjoyed the process of being on stage. Six years later, Mohammed’s speech “The Power of Words” won him the Toastmasters International World Championship of Public Speaking. You can watch that speech here.

It doesn’t take long to realize why Mohammed’s speech earned the gold medal. Within the first few moments, he grabs the audience’s attention by pretending to light a cigarette on stage.

As Mohammed explains, an introduction is one of the most important elements of a speech.

“If you do not hook me in the first five seconds, my mind will automatically skip,” he says. “Do something spectacular within the first few seconds of your speech that will grab the audience’s attention.”

Mohammed is also an expert at injecting humour in his speeches.

“The audience loves two things.They love to laugh and they love to hear stories,” explains Mohammed. “You have to walk a thin line, because you want to be motivational and inspirational, but at the same time, you do not want to come out as a clown who just makes people laugh all the time.”

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from my conversation with Mohammed was what he experienced after becoming world champion.

“It’s not as glamorous as you might think it is,” he says.

Outside of the Toastmasters organization, few people are aware of who the world champions of public speaking are. Sure, Mohammed had the opportunity to give a few speeches internationally following his victory but there wasn’t an abundance of money or fame that came with the title.

He encourages those who compete in Toastmasters competitions to really think about why they are entering the contest. If it’s to win a trophy, they are probably entering for the wrong reason. According to Mohammed, the “why” should be the opportunity to influence the audience and make a difference in the world.

“Every time I take the stage, whether I speak to thousands or even two or three people, I always give it my all. If I can only influence the life of one person, that person can change the life of another person, and that other person could change the lives of two other people

YouTube /Wade Paterson

. It could start a ripple effect that I might actually be able to change the entire world, just by (influencing) one person.”

If you’re thinking about joining Toastmasters to improve your public speaking skills, our Kelowna AM Toastmasters Club is always looking for new members.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Moderate a panel like a pro

The art of moderating

YouTube /Wade Paterson

If you have ever been asked to moderate a panel, give yourself a pat on the back. That’s a huge honour.

You were likely chosen because you are an effective listener and have a knack for asking great questions.

The best way to describe a panelist moderator is sort of like the quarterback of a panel discussion. He orshe is responsible for the flow of the session, making sure the panelists are given equal opportunity to share important information, while ensuring the audience gets as much value from the conversation as possible.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of moderating several panel discussions and with this column (and accompanying video), I share my top tips for moderating like a pro.

Pick an interesting topic and choose great panelists

Sometimes you are told the topic of the session you will be moderating and who your panelists will be. But, if you have the opportunity to pick either or both, take your time and choose wisely.

With regard to the subject, imagine you are an attendee at the conference or event where this panel session will be taking place. What is a subject, title and description that would be irresistible to you as a member of the audience? The topic and description of your panel discussion should hook the crowd’s attention before they’ve even stepped in the room.

If you get to choose your panelists, the first requirement is to pick individuals who are knowledgeable and have expertise on the subject. Try to pick panelists who have differing—not necessarily opposing—points of view. There’s nothing worse than attending a panel discussion where panelist A gives an answer, and then panelist B repeats the exact same thing. The whole point of a panel is to give a diverse range of opinions.
In my experience, the ideal number of panelists is two or three.

Set up a pre-interview call with panelists

The best panel moderators often set up a pre-interview call, either virtually or in-person, before the day of the live event. There are two reasons this is beneficial. First, if the panelists have not yet met, this will give them the chance to be introduced and become comfortable with each other prior to stepping on stage. The more relaxed your panelists are on the day of the event, the better.

Second, it will give you as the moderator a chance to go over housekeeping items with your panelists and give them an idea of some of the types of questions they’ll be asked and the structure of the conversation. This will further add to your guests’ comfort, as they’ll feel prepared going into the panel session.

Do your research and give panelists a nice introduction

One of my biggest pet peeves is when an interviewer or a moderator starts the session by asking: “So, can each of you tell us a bit about yourselves?” In my opinion, that is the job of the moderator. Do some basic research on your guests and have a sentence or two that tells your audience about their expertise, and also gives them a glimpse into who each of the panelists are and why they’re qualified to be there.

Keep the introductions brief, though. You want to maximize speaking time for your panelists.

Balance speaking time

One of the trickier aspects of moderating a panel is ensuring there is somewhat of a balance in speaking time. Most experienced panelists will usually be mindful of how long they’re talking, but this isn’t always the case.

If you find panelist A continues to give long-winded answers, while panelist B responds with only a few words, be prepared to ask follow-up questions to panelist B to allow him or her to expand on the answer. On the flip side, if panelist A is going on for far too long, find a strategic pause to jump and gently interrupt with something like: “There’s a ton of a great information there, Bob (panelist A), and I’m sorry to cut you short, but I would love to hear Susie’s (panelist B) take on that as well.”

Use minimal notes, and listen carefully for follow-up questions

Going into the panel, it’s a good idea to have some notes to remind you of the questions you have prepared, but try not to be staring at your notes too often.

If the stage has side tables beside the chairs, you can set your piece of paper there and have key words written down, which will remind you what questions you were hoping to ask. You can also consider using cue cards, which are a bit more subtle if you’re holding them in your hand.

Moderators who don’t rely too heavily on notes are often better listeners, and it’s an incredible skill if you’re able to listen carefully then ask a clever follow-up question following one of your panelist’s answers.

Keep it on time

Most events and conferences have a pretty tight agenda, so one of your most important jobs as a moderator is to ensure the session stays on time. Be mindful of the start and end time, and if your panel begins way later than anticipated, try to ask the event organizer if it’s OK for you to run the session for the originally-planned duration. If so, great. If not, adapt and choose which questions you’ll cut out to maximize value for your audience.
Involve the audience

If your panel discussion is long enough, it might be nice to throw in an opportunity for an audience question and answer session. If that’s the case, in a large room (with adequate audio-visual equipment), you may want to ask a couple of volunteers to be “mic runners” and bring an extra microphone to anyone in the room who has a question.That will allow the entire audience to hear what is being asked.

In a smaller venue, listen to the audience question and then repeat it so your panelists have a moment to think and so all the entire audience can properly understand what is being asked of the panelists.

Wrap it up with a bow

Toward the end of the session, it’s always nice to give the panelists an opportunity to share any important information that may not have been discussed during the session. Saying something like, “We’ve covered a lot of ground today, but is there a final thought or piece of advice you’d like to share with the audience?” is a good way to phrase that.

Ensure you end the session by asking the audience to give a round of applausefor the panelists, and feel free to share information about how the audience can connect with those individuals—whether in-person or virtually—after the session.

If you’re thinking about joining Toastmasters to improve your public speaking skills, the Kelowna AM Toastmasters Club is always looking for new members.

If you’re interested in learning more about Impactful Communication, subscribe to my YouTube channel.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


The future of public speaking 

Public speaking is changing

YouTube /Wade Paterson

I recently attended a Toastmasters meeting at my local club (Kelowna AM Toastmasters) and I was pleasantly surprised to see a former member walk through the door as a guest.

The individual hadn’t been to one of our meetings in two or three years. After the meeting, I chatted with her and she told me she was blown away by how much the club’s meeting had evolved.

Since COVID, Kelowna AM Toastmasters adapted to become a hybrid club, which makes it possible for members and guests to attend both in-person and online via Zoom. Each week, volunteer club members set up cameras, microphones and other equipment to make this possible.

While this new hybrid environment now feels completely normal to the regular club members, the former member was impressed by the set up. Her comments made me think about what the future of public speaking could look like.

This month, I want to share a few predictions of what speakers should likely expect in the years to come.

Virtual meetings are here to stay

I think most people would agree that virtual meetings will continue to be part of our everyday lives for years to come.

Prior to COVID, many companies hadn’t experimented with Zoom and other virtual meeting software; however, the pandemic forced businesses to adapt and, in doing so, these companies realized the benefits and efficiencies of leveraging virtual meetings.

What does that mean for you as a speaker?

The first thing to keep in mind is your virtual meeting set-up. If you’re participating in Zoom meetings from home, you may want to dedicate a space that has good lighting (especially in front of you, so your face is lit up on camera), a clean background and that isn’t too noisy.

If you have a bit of a budget, you may also want to invest in a decent quality webcam and microphone, as this equipment will help you communicate more effectively.

While on the actual meeting, make sure you virtually make eye contact with your audience by looking directly at the camera lens periodically (and not just staring at the other faces on your screen).

The future will be “hybrid”

Another way the business world adapted during COVID was by making conferences “hybrid,” or essentially giving the option to attend sessions either in-person or virtually.

As a speaker, this might not impact you too much, but if you’re speaking to a live crowd and you know there’s a virtual audience as well, it is a nice touch to acknowledge to virtual audience in some way: whether that’s periodically making eye contact with the camera that feeds to the virtual audience, or potentially by mentioning them or inviting them to type in questions during your speech.

There’s no excuse for a lack of research

We currently have access to unbelievably powerful productivity/research tools, and these tools will only get better with time; therefore, speakers of the future have no excuse for not being prepared for their speeches.

A big part of this preparation process is to know your audience and customize your presentation to suit their needs. As an example, if a speaker is giving a presentation to a room full of realtors, it wouldn’t make sense to talk to them about how to impress their boss to get a promotion (because they are independent contractors and most don’t report to a boss).

In the future, the best speakers will custom-build each presentation to speak the language of each individual audience.

Speeches in the Metaverse?

When Facebook officially changed its company name to Meta, it was a pretty clear indication that virtual reality and the metaverse will likely be a big part of our future.

Recently, Lex Friedman interviewed Mark Zuckerberg on his podcast, and the interview was completely done via a virtual reality headset. While this type of medium isn’t ubiquitous quite yet, Lex’s interview gave us a glimpse of what future meetings could look like.

For us as speakers, it’s important to remember that no matter how much the technology evolves, the same public speaking fundamentals will always apply.

Body language, vocal variety, eye contact, speech structure, elimination of “umms” and “ahhs,” and the injection of humour are key principals of public speaking that are important whether we’re speaking to a live audience or speaking to a simulated avatar in a futuristic setting.

If you’re thinking about joining Toastmasters to improve your public speaking skills, our Kelowna AM Toastmasters Club is always looking for new members.

If you’re interested in learning more about Impactful Communication, subscribe to my YouTube channel.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Wade Paterson is an award-winning Toastmaster who is passionate about Impactful Communication.

His columns and accompanying YouTube videos are focused on helping others become more confident public speakers and communicators.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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