Public oratory — what is now referred to as public speaking — was a valued skill to those to lived in classical Greece and Rome. The classical techniques of rhetoric used by famed orators such as Socrates, Plato and Cicero still apply today. Over the next few posts, I’ll cover some of these techniques and how you can use them to improve your public speaking skills.
The exordium, or the opening of a presentation, has two goals:
- To gain the sympathy of the listeners — get your audience to like you before you try to persuade them to your way of thinking; and
- To clearly establish your own credibility — show your audience that you are the right person to be speaking about your topic.
The Greeks and Romans felt that what you say first to a “captive” audience is much less important that what you leave them with at the end of the speech. Therefore the beginning is the best time to get the “niceties” out of the way.
So, open your speech with a few humble and friendly things such as how much you like the town, office, company, etc. Then, modestly add in a bit evidence that you know what you’re talking about.
Here’s an exercise, the next time you see a stand-up comedian, listen to how they open. Most often, they’ll say something like “Wow [city they’re in], what a great city. Right?” Then they get the audience clapping about what a great place they live in. Next they might mention their home town and ask if anyone is from there. This warms up the audience and establishes that the comedian is likable.
So, lets say you’re giving a speech about dog training at a local pet club. Here’s how you might open your presentation:
How many dog lovers are in the room? [count/pretend to count raised hands] I thought so. Well, I’m here today to talk about how to get the most out of our relationship with a dog through proper training. I’ve been training dogs for more than 10 years and I think I’ve learned a thing or two about the canine psyche.
Do you see how I weaved personality and authority into a short, friendly opener? It simple to do and will greatly help you in your next presentation.
In my next post, I’ll discuss the narratio, or the segue way into the body of the speech, where you tell them what you’re going to talk about.