I’m a great fan of Ernest Hemingway. Think about him. Think about his 1952 classic The Old Man and the Sea. How does a writer like Hemingway start his book? I mean the first lines. Does he say, Dear reader, it’s a great pleasure and honor to welcome you in my book today. My name is Ernest Hemingway and in this book I will talk about and old man and the sea…?
No, of course, he doesn’t. Writers like Hemingway looks for opening lines that create 100% attention, 100% suspense, 100% fascination. For a writer the first impression of the reader is vital for the book’s success. That’s why literature is full of great first lines.
- It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. —George Orwell, 1984 (1949)
- Call me Ishmael. —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)
- I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
And what do public speakers do? Exactly the opposite. They destroy the first impression with disclaimers, meta speech, excuses, filler words and filler sounds. Here are 10 ways to destroy your first impression (on the content side).
You can say your first sentence without filler sounds. Believe me, it works.
Darn filler words. Focus on your first sentence. The stage is no place for so or well!
Really – who cares?
The other day a participant in one of my trainings said, ‘Good morning’ is an oxymoron. Loved it!
My name is…
The only person on this planet who’s allowed to say that half phrase is Eminem.
Before I start with my presentation, let me share with you a little anecdote.
Meta speech – cut the fat! Start you speech saying, 23 years ago….
I know we have not much time left, so I will be quick.
Apart from the fact that most of the guys who start their presentation with that phrase go heavily overtime in the end, forget about saying it. Cut your content spontaneously – without using a sorry-style ethos breaking sentence like that one.
Can you hear me?
This first sentence means one thing and one thing only: You didn’t make friends with the technical staff. Once I was attending the annual convention of the ECP, the European Cultural Parliament. About 36 seven-minute speeches in two days. 35 of them started with, Can you hear me? I was the only one who made friends with Thomas and Gustav, the two tech guys. You know that the microphone works once you checked everything beforehand.
First of all, I want to say sorry that I came a bit late.
In general, public speaking knows no sorry. In this specific case – for reasons of education, empathy and politeness – let’s make an exception. But if you do, don’t say it at the very beginning. Bring it up later on. Then you’re still educated, empathetic and polite, but you don’t kill your first impression.
Oh, after this great presentation of Mr./Mrs. XYZ, it’s really hard for me to follow up.
Never compare yourself with others. Always be better than you were in your last speech.
The first lines of The Old Man and the Sea are: He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. When you give your next speech or presentation, seize the holy and sacred moment of the very first impression. Don’t destroy it. Be the Ernest Hemingway of speakers!