“They say you should always start your speech with a joke.”
You have heard people offer this adage a thousand times. I have witnessed dozens of executives actually repeat that line as the first sentence of their speech! What a lame way to start.
“They say you should always start your speech with a joke – and some of you may have heard this one – about the old farmer…” And off they go to tell a poor joke poorly, adding no value at all to their presentation. The chance of you telling a good and relevant joke that the audience has not heard before is slim to none. Make no mistake about that! If you want your speech to go well, it has to start well. Those first 180 seconds are critical!
Of course, we long ago lost track of who the “they” are who gave us this foolish advice, but I guarantee you that they did not go very far with their speaking career!
Instead…Start your speech with a story!
Not just any story – your story. Not a story from one of the Chicken Soup books or from Readers Digest. A personal and relevant story involving you. A story that nobody else could ever legitimately tell. If it’s a funny story, so much the better. As you will see, there is a powerful difference between a ‘joke’ and a ‘story’.
Let’s set the scene so you will know why I am contradicting speech-giving folklore...
You are recognized as a leader – one who is called to take the minds and hearts of people to a better and higher place. Circumstances have given you the attention of ten, a hundred, maybe even a thousand people all sitting there waiting to hear your words. Whether you have this attention for twenty minutes or an hour, it is a gift of indescribable proportions. Whether you say something funny or serious, it is your sacred obligation not to waste a minute of it.
Which of these two openings do you think is likely to grab those people by their very souls, thrust them to the edge of their seats and have them bursting in readiness to follow you to the highest mountain top?
Ready? Here’s the first one:
“Thank you for that fine introduction, Norman. I have heard a lot of introductions over the years and that was one of them. You know, that kinda reminds me of the story of the two penguins who walked into a bar. They each climb up on a stool, which is hard to do when you’re a penguin – and the one penguin says to the bartender…”
And now this one…
(First you pause until your introducer sits down, look at your audience and then you speak…)
“At the time I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It was one of those gray winter mornings that make you wonder if spring will ever come. As so many of you have done with your children, I was taking my two boys to the arena for their semi-final game! That’s right, the Craigstown Hardware Hornets had made the semi-finals! The car was quiet with anxious anticipation. Then from the back seat came a question whispered straight from a nine-year-old heart, a question that I will never forget as long as I live, a question, ladies and gentlemen, every one of us in this room has to answer for ourselves …”
(All right. I know that some of you are asking, “What’s the rest of the penguin joke?” Come on – I’m trying to take you to a deeper place here!)
Tell me – which opening signals something significant coming? Which opening will have everyone in the audience identifying with you right from the start? Which opening portrays you as a being real and honest, inviting the audience to be real and honest with you?
Not much question about it, is there? Use a personal opening story like this and your speech will truly move people. Guaranteed.
Here are the guidelines to use in selecting exactly the right story:
1. Make sure it is your story, one you actually experienced, not just heard about.
2. Make sure there is a point to the story – that you learned or realized something powerful as a result of the experience.
3. The point of the story has to lead to the point of your speech – it should ‘go’ somewhere, not simply stand alone.
4. It is better if the story reveals your frailty than your heroism. Showing your humanness will actually strengthen your presence and influence. Painting yourself as perfect or as a hero will close people’s minds to you.
5. Common family situations generate the most universally accepted and powerful stories. Most audiences will not identify with your story about losing your Rolex while on a private jet flying to Morocco. They’ll be glad you lost it.
After each speech you give, the affirmation in every mind and heart in that audience should be: “We heard a leader speak today!” There is no better acclaim.
Do you know many “beloved leaders?” Would you like to be one? It’s rather a strange term – but it is sure clear that our world desperately needs leaders who inspire us to the depths of our souls, who we can look up to and who we actually want to follow.
There are nine essential qualities of a beloved leader and you can read about them starting at page 156 in Going Deep. You will also read how beloved leaders divide up their time and that lesson will either make you drop the idea of becoming ‘beloved’ like a hot rock – or make you more determined than ever to become a true corporate spiritual leader. Order your copy of Going Deep from the Inspiration Store at a sale price of $12 and I’ll send you a free copy of my newest book The Profitable Power of Purpose (Reg. $12.97)
By the way, the feedback on the new book has been wonderful. Joe Calloway, author of Becoming a Category of One wrote: “I love the book. Holy moly. I think your corporate clients will buy this thing by the truckload. I’m going to recommend this to people for sure.”
If you haven’t read Joe’s book yet – order it from Amazon. It’s a must for anyone wrestling with the whole branding issue.
Till next time…