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Beginning Your Speech: 35 Seconds to Survive a Gator
How long does it take to size someone up when you first meet them? Do you get a taste of who he is in the first few sentences of your conversation? If you do, you’re perfectly normal. Some might say that these snap judgments make you opinionated, perhaps cruel. Not true! On the contrary, it is closely related biology! Our first impressions are a defense mechanism designed to prolong your life.
What did you say?
The human brain is a complex organ that functions on several levels. High brain activity occurs in the neo-cortex; normal brain function and shared thinking occur in the mammalian brain; and automated functions occur in the part of the brain that is always conscious – the reptilian brain. Our tendency to perform our initial assessment of risk and danger occurs in the reptilian brain (RB). This is important to know because this part of the brain (without us knowing or thinking about it) is constantly monitoring our environment for risk. A risk to our health. A risk to our well-being. A risk to our well-being.
Don’t you believe? Then check this out. Do you remember a time in your life when someone looked you in the face and lied to you? Do you remember realizing that the person was lying? You probably didn’t think about why you thought they were lying, you just felt somewhere in your mind that what they were saying wasn’t true. Or maybe there was a time when you were walking along and sensed danger out of nowhere. Your hair stood up. Your skin was crawling with anxiety. In both situations, your RB made you aware of the risk.
Now you’re probably thinking, “Well… sure, people have had that experience, but what does that have to do with first impressions?”
Whenever you meet someone in person or through technology, the first thing that happens is your RB scan. It covers all the information about the person and registers a warning about the risk to the rest of the body. If the threat rating is low, things are progressing normally. However, if there are indicators of threat perceived by RB, well…things start to happen. RB releases adrenaline into your system so you can react quickly. More blood is needed, so your heart starts beating faster to prepare for action. All this happens while the other two-thirds of your brain can be kept in the dark until the mammalian brain (MB) starts receiving messages from the RB that something is wrong. Once this happens, the Neo-Cortex (NC) can begin further analysis of the information.
RB is wired. However, you can join it and get a personal advantage. One of the reasons law enforcement, firefighters, and the military train is that all of their skills are programmed into the RB. It is a phenomenon of human existence that when the brain is stressed, it shuts down higher brain functions, forcing the body to rely on automated RB functions. In extreme situations, you have a fight or flight response. Firefighters must overcome this “fight or flight” instinct with action – and their training does. This programmed training that is in the RB takes over and these emergency responders operate with an automatic response that is programmed.
So now you’re probably thinking, “Just what is this all about Thirty five seconds to survive in Gator?”
It’s all about thirty-five seconds! When you stand in front of an audience, most people follow a basic speech structure that includes an introduction, body, and conclusion. Think of your audience as an assortment of reptiles, because in the first thirty-five seconds you are being scanned. Every reptilian brain in the audience makes a risk assessment. How your voice and body behave in the first thirty-five seconds determines whether they’ll pay attention to you or think you’re humming. An audience is sometimes won or lost in the first thirty-five seconds: about seventy-five words.
They are lost when the RB tells the MB that it does not need special attention, and the neo-cortex that a careful analysis is not necessary – because you are bored, hum and nothing unusual. Now at some point later in your speech you may do or say something that stands out from the RB and then the MB and NC, but in a short speech it is often too late to affect the audience.
So how do you engage RB and use the first thirty-five seconds to grab your audience’s attention and interest right from the start?
The headline is the most overlooked element in any speech. I include it in this introductory discussion because the title of your talk is always mentioned before the talk begins. Your headline is the part of your speech that is spoken by someone else and is not charged for your speaking time. It’s also your first chance to be humored, curious, or expectant.
Too little effort is put into writing the title. More often than not, a headline is accidentally slapped onto a speech at the last minute. Or, when the name is coined, the speaker does not have the sense to rehearse with the introduction how the name will be given.
Name pronunciation and voice inflection exercises with the introduction are an important part of the introduction. A mispronounced name is hard to overcome. If the presenter mispronounces the title of your speech, the audience may become confused. In a short speech, let alone a thirty-five second introduction, you can’t afford to mislead your audience with a weak or mispronounced title. Try these titles: “Ka-ching,” “Lessons from Fat Dad,” or “Ouch.” These titles from the three World Public Speaking Champions Championship Speeches were a precursor to dynamic, exciting speeches. Don’t miss an interesting and captivating title.
Great speakers start in silence for about 10-15 seconds, looking at their audience the whole time. This is especially true if they are short or have the voice of the week. Napoleon Bonaparte, Queen Elizabeth and Abraham Lincoln are great examples of Western culture. The first two are examples of small stature. The third, Lincoln, had a high-pitched voice.
Standing still and watching the audience brings the Reptilian brain into focus. It doesn’t know what you are going to do or say. It becomes cautious. The longer you look at the audience, the quieter they become, anticipating what is about to happen. Some wonder if you have forgotten your speech. Some expect something unexpected. Regardless, they’re starting to pay attention. Stopping before you start also allows you to gain peace of mind. What you gain is your audience’s rapt attention and hope that your first words matter. The audience also recognizes that you are a confident speaker.
Talk like every word you use is worth a million dollars
In thirty-five seconds, if you speak at the normal rate of one hundred and twenty-five words per minute, you will speak just under seventy-five words, or seventy-five million dollars. Do you think you should spend money wisely and make every word count? My youngest child would respond to this with a substantial, “Duh!”
Don’t waste the first seventy-five precious sayings how good it is to be here tonight – it’s not, and no one will believe you anyway. Instead, whisper or roar, sing or shout, speak at a measured pace or rapid fire, but whatever you do, reach out to the reptilian brain and invite the rest of their brains to come along!
The human brain can process 7,200 images per minute and 600 words per minute. Since you’re only going to speak 75 words in thirty-five seconds, what are you going to do to fill the 525-word gap between you speaking and me listening? Are you going to use 4200 images that I could process in thirty five seconds? If your introduction fails to address the full capacity of my brain in an audience of about a hundred people, you’ve just wasted half a million images. By the way, don’t forget that each of these pictures (pictures) is worth a thousand words: about five hundred million words. What a waste! Do you get the picture?
Introduction number one:
Listen, understand and value our children. Those are the three important lessons my instructors taught me at teacher’s college. They said we should love our students as if they were our own. I had taught for 16 years and thought I knew everything there was to know about teaching until a very special student showed me the true power of these words. (64 words)
Some people are absolutely unlovable!
They are prickly like a porcupine and gentle like a tarantula.
We teachers are trained tamers of the restless and restless. (28 words)
Both of these examples are introductions to the same speech. Look at them carefully and tell me which one creates more visual images in your head? What piques your interest and urges you to hear more talk? Which introduction makes the most economical use of these million dollar words?
Introduction number one recites information for the audience to consider and tells them that the speaker will talk about his teaching experience involving the student who taught him the class. This is the professor’s approach to the introduction. Too often this “professional” approach is used by managers in the business world where words count for dollars. Rise up! It’s not professional – it’s boring.
The second intro has a different beat. “Do you know someone who is unlovable?” Is it possible that when the speaker said, “Some people are unlovable,” you were thinking of a specific person? An image and connection are created.
The second sentence consists of two similaritieswritten contrast to each other and both contain alliteration: “prickly like a porcupine” and “tender like a tarantula”. Have you seen the pictures of these two creatures? Maybe you refer to someone you find unlovable and agree that was a perfect description of that person? Maybe you did or maybe you didn’t – your brain can do it.
Alliteration is another way to make an impact. The last sentence combines the speech construction from alliteration and a a metaphor. Alliteration is made up of words in the sentence that begin with “t”: teachers, trained, tamed, restless, and rude. The metaphor is found in the attribution of teachers as “tamers” of animals and the attribution of students as restless and restless. The second introduction looks at brain imaging and the brain’s ability to process more word concepts than a human can speak in thirty-five seconds.
Great introductions get to the point. They don’t tell us the purpose, they let the audience feel the theme. Don’t bore the audience. Instead, entice them to experience the theme. Tease us with mental imagery and puns. Engage our complex brains and focus our attention on your next word or sentence. In doing so, you will use speech constructs that have strong sensory capabilities to engage our multilevel brains. Like a scream, they draw the brain’s attention.
The SCREAM constructions are: simile, contrast, rhyme, echo, alliteration and metaphor. Using these language constructs will engage the multilevel brain enough to make your speech successful. Use them when writing your next introduction.
First impressions. . . . The introduction is more than the platitudes “I’m so glad to be here today.” The elements of an effective and efficient intro are: Title, Silence, Seventy-Five Million Dollar Investment, and SCREAM.
When you’re giving a short speech, every word should count! Choose words that make the RB stand out and grab the audience’s attention. Use SCREAM strategies to awaken the multilevel brain. Don’t miss the power of your headline and make sure your intro gets it right.
Use these strategies in your next speech and you’ll make the reptiles stand up and notice that dinner is being served!
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