I’m a Type-A person: for me, there really is no such thing as a “slow start.” More than two decades into my career and I remain genuinely surprised when a client begins a conversation by asking “How are you?” rather than jumping right into the business at hand.
But in my writing, I’m all about the slow start. I would never send a client onstage to just open up a fire hose of information. Speakers need to build rapport with their audiences—and yes, even if it’s an audience of people who know you. Say you’re the CEO of a company, talking to your employees. You may not need much in the way of introduction, but you still need to let everyone get a feeling for this day, this particular occasion. You stop and smell the roses together, metaphorically; you share an experience.
On a phone call between two people, this might take the form of “small talk.” (One of these days I’ll remember that.) But small talk is far too small for a formal setting, like a speech. Single out “Bob in the third row” and you alienate the hundreds of other people you don’t mention. No, you need to create an experience everyone in the room can share.
Regular readers will know what’s coming next:
You tell a story.
Not just any story, of course. You want a story that subtly sets up the theme of your talk. Something that shows the audience who you are as a person, what’s important to you.
Slow Start: introducing your material
I started thinking about this the other day I wrote about the “tell them what you’ll tell them” terrible writing advice we all learned in grade school. In the business world, this most often takes the form of the “executive summary” section that opens every single research report or white paper. Academic papers require this format as well.
But people whose livelihoods depend on someone actually reading what they write—published authors who want to sell books—draw the reader in with their introductory material.
Case in point, the marvelous Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. You’ll be nine pages into their book (approximately—I read the e-book) before they introduce the principles that shape the rest of the book. And what’s in those nine pages?
Say it with me, friends: stories. Stories that hook the reader’s attention. Stories that start aligning our worldview with the Heath Brothers’ way of seeing things. Stories that make us want to learn more.
So when we get to the point where most people would begin their introduction, our listeners or readers are already sold. They’re not just sitting there politely; they’re eager to hear what we have to say.
You cannot overestimate the value of a good, well-told story. Type-A tribemates, we’d do well to remember that.
Storytelling Resource: Why do we tell stories? How do we tell them? Where do we find them? I talk about my storytelling techniques—and tell a few great stories—in my e-book What’s the Story? Available here.