When exactly does a speech begin? Does it begin when you are introduced? When you walk onto the stage? When you begin speaking?
Your speech begins well before your opening words, when you agree to present to an audience. The audience feels everything that goes into putting the speech together. A quote by Somers White supports this idea, “90% of how well the talk will go is determined before the speaker steps on the platform.”
This delivery principle of Setting the Stage explores the most important aspects of your speech most which occur before you ever even open your mouth. There are four key moments that every great speaker should be aware of as they take the stage.
The first moment comes Before the Speech.
The impression your audience formulates of you begins long before you start speaking. Have you ever seen presenters enter the room with their shoulders slightly slumped, looking a bit disoriented and fumbling through materials? How good is this speech going to be? Great? Probably not. How did you know? Nonverbal cues! Herodotus, a Greek historian who has coined many clever quotes, said, “Men trust their ears less than their eyes.”
In contrast, have you observed a speaker who is completely prepared as you enter the room? Handouts, props displayed, they greet you with a smile and a nod or “Hi, welcome.” As they take the stage, they stand poised, their shoulders back, their eyes looking directly into audience members. When they take that breathe in to begin, they keep that rapport and con dently deliver their rst line. How do you think this speech will rate? Excellent? I agree. They showed me before they ever got started.
Nonverbal communication accounts for more of any given situation than the words themselves. So always be careful of what your nonverbal behaviors are saying. Nonverbal signals important for speakers include factors such as posture, clothing, hygiene, organization, time management, expressions, eye contact, and disruptions and interference to the mouth or face.
The second moment is in the action of Taking the Stage.
Think back on the prior visual of the presenter who walks up to their platform with slumped shoulders, a disoriented demeanor, and fumbling through materials. Do you want to be this type of speaker? No! You want to be the speaker who walks up to the platform with broad shoulders, chest out, chin up, and materials steadily in hand. Take the stage as if you own it! If you are unfamiliar with the space you are presenting then get their early, and familiarize yourself with your stage. This will allow you to radiate confidence to the whole room.
The next key moment is Creating a Concrete Connection.
Most speakers begin speaking before the audience is ready to listen. STOP! Hold on! Wait for the audience to turn their attention to you. Stand grounded, patiently wait for each audience member quietly, without words just eye contact. Silently, politely demand their undivided attention using your eye contact. They will give it to you if you wait. If you move on without everyone’s focus, you give the audience permission to not pay attention. We teach people how we want to be treated. If you want your audience to listen to you, wait for them to open the ears so they can hear your message. This is a crucial step that requires you to establish yourself as a leader and demonstrate control over your nerves.
The last key moment when “Setting the Stage” occurs with the First Spoken Words.
Your first words are always the most important words of the speech. They need to convey excitement and evoke curiosity so people will want to keep listening. Do not begin any speech with filler words like, “Um. . . So. . . Well. . .” Nor should you begin with "Hi, how's everyone doing?" Start with words that are meaningful and words that will impact the audience. Memorize your first few lines. Rehearse them well so you can consciously engage the audience by looking them directly in the eyes, speaking loudly, and emphasizing key words with a compelling inflection while maintaining body language that is confident, approachable, and open.
Consider how this parable relates to your approach to your speech.
An old Cherokee told his grandson: “There’s a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It’s anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies and ego. The other is good. It’s joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, and truth.”
The boy thought about it and asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”
The old man quietly replied, “The one you feed.”
This parable highlights why Setting the Stage makes all the difference. When you begin your speech with confidence and control, standing poised, establishing direct eye contact with your audience members, speaking clearly with pauses and vocal variation you “feed” the positive emotion for a “good delivery”. As a result, your confidence will grow. If you begin your speech driven by fear, allowing anxiety to sabotage delivery by causing slumping, looking down, speaking too fast, rocking from side-to-side, or not waiting for your audience—you will “feed” that intent throughout the rest of the speech. Setting the stage correctly allows you to feed the good wolf!
Let’s see how well you grasped this concept! Create a checklist of things you must do to master each of the key moments involved in setting the stage.
Before the Speech: Taking the Stage: Establishing a Connection: First Spoken Words:
Written by J.R. Steele, M.S.
Read more posts by J.R. Steele, M.S.