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From the desk of Steve Lowell, Master Speaker and Mentor to those who speak in public.

Just Before Show Time

Rehearse Your Opening Line

Even an experienced speaker may, on occasion, forget his or her opening words.

I was speaking at a “Your Stage” event in early 2010, and there were many people in the audience who were attending the event for the first time. Many of these first-timers were there specifically to hear me speak. I had a great presentation prepared, and I was excited about the opportunity to present to this group.

Since this was my own event, I was responsible for the set-up before the event began. When I arrived, I was busy setting up the screen, then the projector, and finally the laptop, on top of taking care of many little details that go along with hosting a presentation. In addition, I had to meet, to greet and to mingle with my guests.

Because of this, I didn’t get the quiet time I need to refresh my thoughts before I speak, therefore, I didn’t rehearse my opening line. Though I had it prepared, and had rehearsed it many times before this day, it wasn’t fresh in my mind because of all the distractions before the session.

When the time for me to speak came up, the Master of Ceremonies introduced me as I stepped onto the stage. I suddenly found myself with nothing to say. I looked into the faces of the audience, and my opening line completely escaped me. In silence, I tried to reach into my memory banks to find the words, but there were none to be found.

After what seemed like a month, I finally found some other words to open my presentation with, and I recovered quickly after that. I built up some momentum, and the presentation went smoothly onward. It was, however, an awful feeling when I found myself at a loss for words, even though it was for a few moments only. I was nearly overwhelmed, and the longer the words escaped me, the more the level of anxiety rose. Of course, as professionals, we’re expected to make it completely transparent to the audience, and I believe I was able to do so in this case, but it could have gone the other way. Had I not been able to generate some other opening remark in reasonably short order, my confidence would’ve gone south in a hurry and my presentation along with it.

So, what’s the lesson? Always rehearse your opening line a few minutes before you take the stage.

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