The Opening Line That Alienated An Audience

“I was asked to speak for 20 minutes. I have a lot of notes here, so we’ll see how far I get.”

That’s how one speaker began her remarks at a presentation I recently attended. Her opening made me bristle, and I found myself upset at her for beginning that way. Here’s how I automatically processed her opening:

“Hi. I was asked to speak for 20 minutes. I didn’t think you were an important enough audience for which to prepare a thoughtful talk and time it out in advance, so I decided to just wing it a bit. I have a few notes here, so I’ll just start talking and finish whenever my 20 minutes are up. Of course, I may have a few important points at the end of my notes that I simply won’t have time to get to, so you’ll be left wondering whether I neglected to make any of my critical points. Well, anyway, how about I just start talking?”

From her first line, this speaker communicated that her time was more valuable than that of the audience to which she was invited to speak. And the shame is, she was a brilliant woman with important information. At moments, she made the audience laugh. But I couldn’t forgive the lack of respect she gave the moment and the audience from the very beginning.

As happens when people fail to prepare adequately, she ended much as she began: as a lame speaker limping to the finish line. Several minutes into her talk, she asked the host. “How much time do I have left?” The host responded: “None.” The audience laughed at that exchange, but for all the wrong reasons.

I like to include actionable advice in my posts whenever possible, but today’s is rather obvious. Prepare for your presentations in advance. Practice with a timer to make sure your presentation fits within the allowable time limits. And if you fail to do either of those things, at least have the good sense not to announce your lack of preparation to your audience.

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