Getting Your Speech Off To a Good Start

Las Vegas is a classroom for performance and presentation techniques.  One of the lessons I’ve learned after watching over 200 shows is the importance of The Show Before The Show.  Rarely does a Las Vegas show begin with the curtain rising on a dead stage before a lifeless audience. 

For example, Cirque Du Soleil shows usually warm up the audiences with characters in costume wandering about the theater and interacting with the early-arrivers.  It’s definitely the show-before-the-show.  People don’t want to be late because the pre-show IS part of the show!

Two years ago I saw Toxic Audio.  It’s an amazing program of five A Cappella singers.  Since their show features “the human voice,” their audience warm-up gets the audience making sounds with their voices.  Bark like a dog.  Quack like a duck.  In the theme of the show.  Effective.

Many shows have a pre-show consisting of Video Footage.  Carrot Top shows R-Rated funny videos.  Several performers show clips of past performances (Gerry McCambridge, Vinnie Favorito, The Society of Seven).  Some comedy performers use video footage of other comics and celebrities making jokes at the performers expense (The Scintas, Bobby Slaton).  Many acts use music to warm up the audience (Terry Fator, The Las Vegas Tenors, Barry Manilow).  The Blue Man Group used a video show with dialogue text connecting with the audience. 

The classic show-before-the-show is the Warm-up Act where an actual performer, usually a comic or a singer, opens for the headliner.  Steven Wright’s show was opened by another comic.  A singer often opens for a singer. 

Those are just a sample of what professional performers are doing to make sure the audience is energized before the curtain goes up.  How does this apply to speakers?

As a speaker, you want to avoid approaching the microphone with a stone-cold audience.  That’s one of the reasons contest speakers don’t want to draw speaking position number one in a competition.  They don’t want to be the show-before-the-show for the other speakers!  And that’s the reason the Emcee of the Contest usually tries to warm up the audience before the first contestant speaker hits the stage.

The next time you speak, what can you do to warm up your audience before you say your first word on the platform?

1.  Everything you do before you start your speech is part of your show-before-the-show.  Robert Orben said that the speech begins in the parking lot.  Others have said that the speech begins with you walk out your front door.  How do you behave at the airport ticket counter when your flight is delayed?  A member of your upcoming audience could be standing behind you while you are being nice or rude to the desk clerk.  When we were stuck in San Francisco traffic, Alan Weiss shared with me, “I never honk within ten miles of a client.”  Since he doesn’t know for certain where his clients are, he never honks!  Always be on your best behavior before a speech.  You never know who is watching.

2.  Patricia Fripp is a great example of someone who warms up the audience by mingling.  Do you mix, mingle and chat with the audience before your speech?  I have occasionally connected with my audiences before my talks by performing strolling magic.  If you mingle well, when you are introduced you already have friends in the audience.

3.  Many speakers use music as part of their show-before-the-show.  Anthony Robbins has loud music with a rock beat playing, not just before the talk, but before the audience enters the room.  While you’re waiting in the hall for the doors to open you can hear the pounding beat of the music coming from inside the meeting room.  It’s definitely an energy and anticipation builder.

4.  Speaker can use video or PowerPoint to warm up the audience.  Bill Gates, before he took the stage, used a video introduction to introduce himself in a humorous way at the 2007 CES Convention in Las Vegas.  Using PowerPoint you could share relevant quotes or a trivia quiz with your audience.  Keep their minds active while they’re waiting for the main event…you.

5.  Be aware that your written introduction, to be used by the person introducing you, is part of your warm-up act.  Make it interesting.  Include some humor.  Make sure it’s not a dreary bio which puts people to sleep.  You don’t want it to be the show-before-the-naptime.

These are just a few thoughts on the subject of warming up your audience.  We could probably add another 100 to the list.  What can you do the next time your speak to ensure that your audience is awake and eager to hear your message.  The energized audience doesn’t happen by accident.