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


The First Ten Seconds Are Critical

When you’re telling a story as part of your presentation, you need to set the stage for it in the first ten seconds. Your audience has a very short attention span, and if you begin a story with a long, drawn-out introduction of facts, you’ll likely lose them, and then have to work that much harder at getting them back again.

During the first ten seconds of your story, your audience needs to form a picture their minds as to what the situation is. It’s not critical that they know how the story fits into your presentation at this point, but they do need to be able to imagine the setting in their minds, so they can follow you throughout your story. As soon as it’s clear that you’re telling a story, your audience will begin framing the story in their own minds. They need to know who, what, when and where in the first ten seconds. The “why” can be explained later on, that’s the suspense factor.

If you move through a story without first painting a picture in your audience members’ minds, they’ll have a hard time following the events as they unfold, because they’ll have no point of reference.

In early 2010, a student in one of my courses spent the first five minutes of her two-minute talk telling us about the history of a little town in England where there was a small shop that sold antiques.

Finally, after the history lesson, she began to tell us about her experience in that particular shop.

Her story was actually very interesting once she got to the heart of it, but for five minutes of what was supposed to be a two-minute talk, she spoke about things that weren’t relevant to the event she wanted to share.

I coached her a little, then asked her to tell the story again, so this time, she began this way, “It’s twenty years ago, and I’m walking through the doors of a tiny antique shop, in a small town in England.”

Can you see how that created a vision in the mind of her audience? By bringing us to a specific time and place and helping us visualize the situation, she captured our attention as an audience, and was then able to take us anywhere she wanted to take us.

So, what’s the lesson? Practice the first ten seconds of your story over and over again until you know you have set the stage effectively. Then you can move on, knowing your audience is with you.

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