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How not to lose your audience

You clear your throat. You fiddle with your collar. You shuffle your feet. You cough. You yawn. You look up. You look down. And then you start to speak.

By now, your audience is rolling its eyes. It has fallen asleep. It has left the building.

It doesn’t matter if you're writing a speech, a report, a story. If you don’t push “start” from second one, your message falls flat.

It’s like spinning your wheels before you go anywhere. Your audience wants to push you out of the ditch ‒ or just leave you there and pay attention to someone else.

Here are some samples of those wheel-spinning, yawn-inducing openings:

  • “I’d like to take the opportunity to…”

  • “I’m not really accustomed to speaking about…”

  • “First, I am going to say…”

  • “I want to give you the background…”

  • “Recent studies show…”

  • “As you’ll see from the graphs later on in this article…”

  • “Let me tell you the purpose of this speech…”

  • “So...” (This is the worst. Never start a sentence with “So” -- when writing or public speaking. )

  • “I am honored to be able to…”

  • “Before I start, I would like to thank these people…”

  • “This article will set out to explain, first, the nature of…”

It's all throat-clearing, tire-spinning, blinking, coughing, running-on-the-spot. They mean you don’t know how to start or haven’t figured out exactly what to say. They’re like a flashing sign that says: B-O-R-I-N-G.

Don’t explain; don’t apologize; don’t preamble. Don’t tiptoe around the topic. Just say it from the first sentence. You’ll come across as someone who knows where you’re going.

For an intriguing opening, tell a story, a small anecdote. But keep it short and make sure it relates to your topic.

It comes down to empathy for your readers or listeners. You want them to be comfortable, interested -- even fascinated. You want to grab their attention from the start and keep them there. You want to lead them all the way to the last word.

And you know what? Next time they see something written by you, they’ll sit up and notice.

They’ll know they won’t first need to take a nap.

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