The same rule applies to speakers. If you want to rivet an audience’s attention, dive right into your main message. Arouse listeners’ curiosity so that they cannot help but wonder what you’re going to say next.
Wordy speakers tend to overexplain themselves. They begin by announcing that they’re going to tell a funny story or that they want to preface their remarks with a little digression.
These types of comments lead audience members to tune out. They figure that the real point of the presentation is still a ways off.
What’s worse, if you tell people that you’re going to open with a joke, skeptics in the room will think, “This better be good.” They see it as a challenge rather than an inducement to listen.
Starting a speech with clichés works against you. Consider how Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, dances around his point in a Nov. 18, 2008, presentation.
"It seems to me that we’re at one of those enormously important periods. I think it’s a cliché to say that this is one of the great crises that we face, but this may be the most tough economic time that most of us will face in our lifetime.”
Schmidt seems intent not to say anything consequential. He utters vapid phrases (“I think it’s a cliché to say that”), repeats lifeless words such as “face” and “time” and deadens our will to hear more.
For your next speech, try something bold: State your main point in your first sentence. No preliminary comments. No flowery adverbs. Your audience will thank you.