Al Gore pic courtesy Alex De Carvalho
In the last post we discussed the importance of presentation openings.
We’re always amazed at the eternal popularity of the worst speech opening technique ever. It’s a method that torpedoes your speech before it’s even left the dock.
It’s the Apologetic Opener.
It goes something like this.
- “Sorry, I’m not used to public speaking…”
- “Sorry I’m a bit flustered, the traffic was terrible on the way here…”
- “Sorry, I’m a bit hung over, hit it pretty hard last night if you know what I mean…”
- “Sorry, I’m really tired, was up most of last night working on deadlines, no rest for the wicked…”
- “Sorry, I’ll try not to bore you TOO much…”
- “I won’t waste too much of your time…”
The logic behind it is that many people believe they’re a poor speaker. So they figure if they present an apology in advance, preferably for some factor beyond their control, then the audience will cut them some slack.
Regrettably, audience don’t care about your problems. Just over a nasty cold? Been up all night with a crying baby? Forget about it and focus on your speech, because you’re absolutely wasting your breath trying to whip up some sympathy.
Imagine you were in a restaurant and the waiter is doing a terrible job. You ask why he brought the wrong main course, half an hour late. He tells you that he’s had a really tough time lately, just broke up with his girlfriend and he dropped hot platters on on his foot earlier and has a nasty bruise.
Do you care? Do you want to hear about his troubles? Didn’t think so. And neither do audiences.
When you open with an apology, all the audience hears is: “Bad presentation coming up. Stop listening now.”
The Apologetic Opener has a distant cousin, the Self-Deprecating Opener.
This is a much better way to start, because it shows that you’re a normal human and don’t have an over-inflated view of yourself. And that you’re confident enough to risk looking silly.
So, say you’re an international diplomat, presenting on how you once brokered a peace deal between warring nation-states in Eastern Europe. Open by telling them you’re now into the third round of negotiations of the Download Bandwidth Limit Treaty with your teenage children, and have been unable to extract any meaningful concessions so far.
Look at Al Gore’s opening in his Inconvenient Truth speech, where he introduces himself as “I’m Al Gore. I used to be the next President of the United States“.
It got the audience on side from the start, and helped transform the image of a guy who had been renowned for robotic humorlessness.
Self-deprecation can be a fine line to tread. In the wrong hands, it can be fairly nauseating - like almost every Hugh Grant movie you can think of. Test it on some friends for some honest feedback before you take it on the road.