One of the questions speakers and comics ask over and over again is, “What should I open with?”
It’s something we all struggle with. Just think, how often have you figured out a so-so opening, and then had a last minute brainstorm, where you thought, “This is much better; it will really get them laughing!”
But -- when you try your great idea -- your audience stares at you like you’re a priest who just strolled into a strip club.
So, what went wrong? You didn’t fit in with your audience. You didn’t show them that, at least on some level, you’re just like them.
Openings are critical: studies show that an average person will form an opinion within your first 17 seconds onstage. In comedy clubs, you’re judged even more quickly – and harshly. Plenty of us comics have had hecklers scream, “You suck!” as we were WALKING UP to the stage.
So – what SHOULD you open with?
After 35 years in front of audiences, I’ve finally found the secret to a killer opening that works on almost any audience: make your opening about THEM.
People want to be appreciated – or at least noticed. Go to any children’s swimming pool and you’ll see kids standing on the diving board screaming, “Mom, look at me, look at me!”
Remember yelling that when YOU were a kid? But -- mom didn’t always look – and some of us spend the rest of our life searching for that person who will pay attention to us.
The performer who can truly see, hear, and understand the challenges facing an audience, will be loved by that audience -- no matter what their topic is. So -- when you plan your act or speech, change words like “I,” “me,” and “my” -- and replace them with “you,” “us,” and “ours.”
Take the time to really learn about the people you’ll be speaking to. Know your audience, and find that bridge where your life and stories intersect with theirs. Don’t just talk about the problems you solve (or at least joke about) – until you connect with your audience by talking about the things that are bothering them.
Once your audience is truly with you, you’ll be going on a journey together – instead of having them listen to stories and jokes as passive observers.
And if they enjoy that journey, soon you’ll find them following your tweets, joining your Facebook page, buying your stuff -- and paying to see you again.