Trade-Show Talks Need Big Open and Close

by Candace K. BelAir

Summon to mind someone you admire as a speaker, preferably someone you know: a colleague at work, a friend, a family member, a neighbor, a professor you had in college, a minister or rabbi.

Got someone?

Now I’ll go out on a limb and predict, even without knowing the person you chose, that he or she is the same person when they stand up and speak as they are when you pass them in the hall or have a discussion around the conference table.

That’s because the successful speaker is, above all, authentic. He is himself. She doesn’t try to be anyone other than who she truly is. To do so would be exhausting and the audience would see through it.

A good speaker doesn’t need to be formal when speaking at a convention or trade show. Consider this: Your audience has arrived to hear a living, breathing human being. They want to know what makes you tick. They want to hear your passion. If it were just about conveying data, you could e-mail your PowerPoint slides and notes to every audience member and save everyone a lot of time and money. Listeners show up because they want to experience you – your style and interpretation of the topic – not “just the facts, ma’am.”

How do you do this? By far, the two most critical elements of any presentation are the open and the close. Your open is the first impression you make. You must hook your audience and create interest in what you’re going to say next. Your close is what your audience will remember most about you and your message.

First: SMILE. A smile means the same in any language, in any country. It says, “I’m happy to be here.” It puts your audience at ease.

“Obvious,” you may be thinking. But when you’re standing in front of an audience and feeling a bit tense, your smile muscles stop working.

After you smile and make eye contact with a few audience members, you begin to speak. How do you immediately create interest? Tell a joke? Be careful. What if no one laughs? Worse, if a joke offends even one person, that’s one person too many. If it’s humor you’re after, far better to tell a story about yourself: self-effacing humor is best.

This is sometimes difficult for high-level executives to do. You may be afraid of appearing vulnerable. Yet, showing your humanness is one of the most effective ways to connect with your audience. Ronald Reagan was a master at this. His ease with gently poking fun at himself is one of the reasons he was called “The Great Communicator.”

A story is always a good way to open a talk. Make it relevant and make it personal.

Additionally, there are other ways to grab your audience’s attention:

You MUST memorize your open. Do not read it. It must come from the heart. Otherwise, your audience won’t believe it.

Now let’s fast-forward to your close. Your ending should reflect your desired outcome. Too many presentations lack a clear conclusion. Summarize your key points, ask for what you want, and give your audience a compelling reason to say yes.

Possible closes:

As with your open, memorize your close.

Remember, speaking is more than giving information. It’s about connecting with your listeners. Your audience will embrace you and your message as long as they believe you speak from the heart.

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