Sex Drugs Rock “n” Roll and Speaking In Public

Sex, Drugs, Rock “n” Roll & Speaking in Public

Rock N Roll and Public SpeakingFirst impressions matter.

Never underestimate the power of the first few seconds when you get to your feet to start speaking in public.

Ignore this eternal truth, and your audience might just ignore what you have to say. How can you guarantee that you will get your speech or presentation off to a good start? Practice is one of the most overlooked and under discussed factors in delivering successful speeches. I regularly listen to speeches that are full of excellent content, but I cringe when a lack of rehearsal sees that content get lost in a series of “um’s, and ah’s” and my #1 favourite pet peeve, “basically.” Argghhh! If a few extra hours would be added to their preparation by rehearsing out loud the speech, (instead of adding another 6 powerpoint slides full of bullet points) it would make a significant difference in its opening impact. If there is one area that needs even focused rehearsal attention, it’s overlearning your introduction.

In this post I want to tell you what overlearning is and how understanding and applying this technique can dramatically improve the attention you create and help to remove the nerves we all feel at the beginning of a speech.

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For almost 14 years I worked at Sun Alliance Insurance Company first as a trainee sales consultant, then later to become a Senior Branch Manager in Birmingham. Starting out as a commission only salesman cold calling door to door rapidly taught me about courage, persistency and how to deal with rejection! I quickly learned I needed to know well what I was going to say first, what the possible answers to those opening responses might be and importantly, what I was going to say next!

How I Raised Myself From A Failure To A Success

Wanting to grow my skills, I was looking for advice and help anywhere, inhaling books on selling by authors such as Dale Carnegie, Brian Tracy, and in particular Frank Bettger, How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling
these became my daily staple diet of advice and positivity. I learned I needed to have a strong initial propositional statement with open questions that developed into a conversational process. I wrote my opening lines out multiple times. I refined them more and more. Then I practised the words over and over again, overlearning them. Even as I’m writing this post now, the words are coming back to my mind and I can recite it exactly as I could 25 years ago. Anyone who has “cold called” will tell you these types of sales calls are not successful most of the time. However, you can increase the possibility of an appointment or even a sale by being ultra prepared and confident in the first few seconds of the call. It is exactly the same when giving a presentation or a speech. First impressions and first phrases matter.

Sex, Drugs, Rock “n” Roll

Shocked I became known as the “cold calling” expert in the office. The Branch Manager at the time would regularly ask me to take out new salesmen to teach and coach them in cold calling. I would share with them my hard learned knowledge of the importance in practising and practising the opening lines until they become so ingrained in your memory that you can say them no matter what nerves are flooding adrenaline through your veins.

I will never forget the event that took place one day while coaching a trainee as we knocked on the door to a house in the local town of Redditch. Almost the instant that the door was knocked it flew open and there stood a very imposing woman right in the face of this young trainee asking, “What d’you want?” Flustered, he said, “I’ve come to talk to you today about,” and then froze. “Yes,” she said, getting closer to his face. Stuttering and bewildered he blurted out, “Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll!” Needless to say that was not what was on sale!

You won’t be surprised to know that we didn’t get an appointment that day.

How To Open A Speech

I have written in other posts how the opening lines of a speech and presentation are perhaps some of the most significant lines you will write. Don’t be like 90% of speakers who bore people to sleep by thanking everyone and their grandma for inviting them to speak. You could use the scenario opening, you could state a dramatic statistic, you could use an appropriate quote, you could even use Surprisology, but however you choose to start your speech, overlearning that start is critical. Overlearning is an educational development concept that states you should practice newly acquired skills, or in this instance the opening phrases of your speech, well beyond the point of initial mastery and memory. By overlearning the opening phrases it leads to automaticity, or a state where you can confidently overcome the initial surge of adrenalin, nerves or just plain fear you experience when you look out at the sea of faces which compose your audience.

Here are 3 techniques I use to overlearn an opening:

  • Read the opening lines (maybe the first 2 – 3 mins) into a digital recorder repeating them at least 5 times. Then covert this to an mp3 and play on your iPod, or create a CD and play over and over again as you commute or even walk the dog! Yes, it can get boring, but a few days of this and your memory muscles will absorb the words deep into your mind and reach the level of automaticity where you can say them confidently and sounding natural without any effort.
  • Write the first few sentences on 5 x 3 cards, one sentence on each card. Read the sentence out loud until you can turn the card over and say the next sentence perfectly without reading the card. Keep practicing until you can smoothly flow from one to the next at least 5 times getting your opening 100% correct each time. Don’t stop the first time you get it correct, overlearning hasn’t begun at that point, keep practising to imprint these vital sentences into your mind.
  • Stand in front of a mirror, smile at yourself and say your opening lines. Initially, you will need to look at your notes but maybe after combining 1 & 2 above, you will get to know and feel comfortable with the words and phrase. Don’t stop yet! Overlearning only works when you go well beyond the point that you think you need to go in repeating the opening. I find it works much better for me if I do short sessions over a few days leading up to the speech rather than a marathon session on the day!

The Difference Between A Professional & An Amateur

This technique of overlearning will help you develop confidence and calmness at the start of your speech or presentation. Not everyone will put the effort in that is necessary to make it successful, but as they say, “professionals prepare, amateurs ad-lib!”

I would love to hear techniques that you use to bring professionalism to your speaking and presentations, please let me know in the comments below, it would be great to hear from you. Let’s start a conversation! You can email me here or tweet me here.

Thanks for reading this post – now go and try overlearning the opening phrases the next time that you are going to speak in public.

By Peter Billingham

Photo Credit: Rachel Ford James via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Wiedmaier via Compfight cc


Posted on by Peter Billingham in Blog Posts, Public Speaking, Speech Writing, Uncategorized

About Peter Billingham

Leader, Learner, Speechwriter, Storyteller, Author. a.k.a. 'The Artful Speaker' Enjoy working on social action projects, Toastmasters, films & adventure travel.

4 Responses to Sex Drugs Rock “n” Roll and Speaking In Public

  1. Mary Hand

    I have the same no. one pet peeve as you do, the word “basically.” While subbing at a middle school recently, a counselor told me how to separate out medical forms, etc. and started with “basically” and then repeated the word twice more in the same sentence.
    Good luck US students!

    • Peter Billingham

      Hi Mary – thanks for the comments, I’m glad it’ not only me! Basically, …. ha ha! It’s just a wasted word – thanks for reading the blog and leaving a message. I appreciate that so much.

  2. Pete Hall

    My favourite Christian speaker and author is someone called Frank Viola. There are no videos of him unfortunately, only audio. In fact he is number 1 in iTunes christian podcasts. You are still great though Pete.
    Here is a link to a short sample of his along with a video someone has made on youtube….

    • Peter Billingham

      Hi Pete (good to hear from you) Thanks. Trying to learn how to do the audio better, and having some fun with writing. More to come to soon! Thanks for taking the time send me a message.

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