Stephen King on Public Speaking

Whether it’s a department meeting in a small conference room or an arena-sized launch party, you cannot lead without speaking to people…publicly…and in large groups. If just reading this sentence makes you anxious, then you won’t like this next part – the effectiveness of whatever you’re about to say hinges on your opening.

Stephen King, one of the most successful authors of the last century, recently said that he can spend years writing the perfect opening sentence of a book. Why does this matter so much? As Stephen stated, “…an opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”

The content of your presentation is obviously important. How you begin it sets the tone for whatever you’re about to discuss. If done well, it will catch people’s attention and instill some curiosity.

Seem obvious? Then why are you beginning meetings with, “Let’s get started” or “What’s first on the agenda.” If having an opening seems like a time killer, consider that Stephen’s opening line can be as short as five words. Not elaborate, but purposeful and well thought out.

[The opening line is] the first thing that acquaints you, that makes you eager, that starts to enlist you for the long haul. So there’s incredible power in it, when you say, come in here. You want to know about this. And someone begins to listen. – Stephen King

We may think that since we are the leader, others have to listen. The logic in this is understandable, but misguided. Having to sit there while you talk should not be confused with attentively listening and/or caring about what you’re saying.

Before you begin a presentation, consider what you’re about to present and why it matters. Then, craft an opening that will make an impact.  An article from Inc.com offers a few suggestions:

  • Start with the unexpected
  • Make is about them
  • Get to the point
  • Arouse emotion
  • Keep it short

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