How to guarantee you start well (because, when that goes well, the rest tends to)

16th July 2013

“You know, sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage. Just literally 20 seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it”

How true is that quote?

You can apply it to so many aspects of your life. But, of course, I’m going to relate it to communication. And, in particular, how you reduce your nerves by mastering your start. This is essential because people can get so nervous before a communication that they:

  • don’t make a good job of it. For example, their presentations become a robotic read-through of boring slides, with zero personality and charm; or
  • don’t even do it at all. For example, when people say “I’m just too busy to go to that networking event”, but really mean “I’m too nervous, so I’ve de-prioritized it”

Both are understandable. But neither is as good as (a) doing it (b) brilliantly.

You can often reduce – or even eliminate – your nerves when you know how to start. After all, if you’re clear what your first three sentences are – and, by clear, I mean you know them word-for-word – you know you’ll start well. So you do. And then things tend to go well through the rest of it.

So here are some situations that people often worry about, with simple techniques to help you master the start; and therefore your nerves:

Delivering a presentation? Script, edit and finalize your first 3-4 sentences. Practise saying them as you’ll do it on the day – stand up, speak more loudly, use your “presenter body language” etc.

Networking? You only need to know (1) who you’ll approach and (2) what you’ll say when you do:

  • If you see someone you know and like, go up to them and say “hello”!
  • If you don’t know/like anyone, go to someone standing on their own and say “mind if I join you?”

Chairing a meeting? Script your opening line. This one works very well: “Thank you all for your time. The purpose of this meeting is that – after it – we can do X, Y and Z. So, let’s get started…”

Want to initiate a conversation that you’re dreading? Think “serve and volley”:

  • Know your opening line (your serve), which is so intriguing that…
  • They respond favourably (their return)…
  • which you then use to start the conversation you wanted to have (your volley)

For example, when you want to ask questions but don’t want to appear daft:

Your serve: The last thing I want to do is bore you with irrelevant information. So do you mind if I ask some questions?

Their return: “What do you want to know?” (Believe me, they won’t say “no, be irrelevant”)

Your volley: Ask your questions

You’ll choose your own opening lines of course. But do choose them. Don’t hope it will turn out well when it matters. Because it probably won’t. Or it won’t be as good as it could have been. Or you won’t even do it.

(By the way, the source for the quote at the top of this Tip? I’d like to tell you it was from somewhere/someone widely recognized as being a guru on this type of thing. It isn’t. Matt Damon’s character said it in the film “We bought a zoo”!)

Action point

Identify a communication you’re nervous about. Script, edit and practise how you’ll start. After that, it only takes 20 seconds of bravery…

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