Developing the Speaker Within You: The Make or Break 10 Seconds

Generally there isn’t a drum roll as we step up to the dais or platform.

OK. So you do get a drum roll whenever you get up? In that case I am not speaking to you, but to all the rest of us who usually don’t get one.

We then have to create our own aura, sense of interest, excitement.

It is widely understood that the first few moments, perhaps 10 seconds that a speaker spends on the stage are amongst the most critical of their entire address. In fact, even their ascendance to the stage, the very act of rising from the floor, or their seat on the platform is just as critical.

We only get one chance at a first impression. One chance at that vital impact that makes us memorable to an audience.

Audiences seem to have this perceptive on/off switch embedded in their minds that is activated immediately the speaker is introduced. Within seconds it swings one way or the other: I like this speaker, or I don’t!

And once triggered it takes much, much more energy to change the position of that switch (if it can be done at all) once the address is properly underway so the message is clear: get it right first up!

It is always advisable to demonstrate an impression of enthusiasm, liveliness immediately our cue is given.

Never, ever just lounge up to the stage, with our face fixed on the floor and meander casually to the dais. Even worse is to, once having shuffled to the dais, spend 10 seconds or so sorting notes, adjusting microphones, sipping water and generally doing all the things that should have been organized well before.

This just breeds a perception of a speaker that is disorganized, careless and in all probability, boring.

It is best to spring to our feet, move at a brisk pace to the platform or dais and then simply spread our prepared notes (if we are using notes) in one smooth motion while keeping eye contact on both our host and the audience.

Eye contact is just so important even at this early stage of an address so it is advisable to do everything possible to keep the audience attention on your eyes, not on the surroundings.

They are, even at this point, instinctively working out whether they will listen to us, or not.

For this reason it is usually best to transport our notes in a matt black folder that is basically invisible to the audience while we are moving: not a bundle of loose, flapping pages that give the appearance of a newspaper caught in a wind gust.

Once ensconced at the dais, depending on the event and the audience, great energy and expectation can be created by maintaining an interested, roving eye contact with the audience for a few seconds, coupled with appropriate body language, before uttering our first (very carefully chosen) opening line.

Whilst it may seem forever, a well executed pause at this critical moment of about 4-5 seconds will almost have our listeners lifting out of their seats in expectation. It is almost like inflating a balloon right up to bursting point: the audience are almost holding their breath waiting for the bang!

At this point, for a few critical seconds, the world is our oyster.

The selection of our opening words, the first 5-10, is key to creating the life and energy that will either turbo charge or stall our entire address.

I once was commissioned to introduce a keynote speaker, from WorkCover, a key Government agency responsible for employee safety at an industry conference.

My opening five words were “WorkCover is killing this industry”.

Everyone went quiet.

Our CEO’s face looked like the blood was draining from it. I could see him thinking “what is Neil doing, what have we done, how am I going to apologize to our speaker?”

But, the audience attention was palpable.

What the CEO (and the audience) didn’t know was that I had done my homework in advance. As any speaker should. I had spoken with the keynote before the session, talked over his content to make sure that I didn’t detract from his key address.

And, I had meticulously explained, and gained his consent to open with an inflammatory remark.

We got the attention of the audience. Our keynote was pleased. Our CEO recovered his composure and didn’t have a heart attack. The session went well.

Our first few moments on the stage will often determine our success. Plan them well, execute them well and our audience response will be positive.

Neil Findlay has been involved in the business and Not For Profit sectors for nearly 40 years in Australia and abroad. During this time he has been an active public speaker. Take a moment and review his website at or his e-business card at

How to be a Great Emcee

I’ve been an emcee for a few gigs — and being a female doesn’t always put me as a first choice in the stereotyping! I do wear a black tuxedo (women’s style — classy) with red bow tie and cummerbund, with heels.


Look the part to begin with! (whether male or female) — it ADDS to the show ambiance.
Interview people in the audience about this event — that night — they are already there — dressed up and ready to have fun! I did this at a large retirement roast for the big wig. During the happy hour, I walked around and interviewed his friends and colleagues, asking: “If you could describe Greg in one word, what would it be?” People loved it — got them in the mood for the event — and were thrilled how those words (quoting the individuals) were used throughout the presentation and introductions.
What doesn’t work? Like ANY presentation, to show up unprepared — either by not knowing your subject (or roastee), your audience, or not knowing your material!


I speak on humor and I often do “master of ceremony-ing”. I have found several things that work well:

Research all of the people/programs you will introduce. Find out anything you can so that your introduction is not canned but sounds more like you know the people well.
Plan to use humor and interesting comments as segues from one person/program to the next. I have a database of jokes/stories/quotes and I find the ones that fit with the topic or person that I am introducing and then use it as a segue.
Comment on what just happened. Nothing is worse than for something to happen on stage and the emcee goes right on with the next introduction as if he/she missed the point. I make it a rule to find something humorous or meaningful about the previous person/event when I come back on stage and I use that to begin my transition to the next introduction.
Keep it short. If the emcee takes too much time, it takes the focus away from the event. That doesn’t mean that the emcee can’t be funny and meaningful but it should always support the main event.


Most speakers’ calendars are pretty empty around the holidays while mine is fully booked because I emcee corporate holiday parties earning as much or more than I usually earn for a keynote speech.

I believe that the job of the emcee is to be “invisible.” We should make everyone else the “stars,” make the event fun and keep the program on schedule. Know your audience and be as helpful as possible to the company you are working for.


Probably the biggest tip for emcees is to tell the client that as emcee, during the event, you will only answer to one person and you will only make changes in the program if that one person approves. This reduces confusion and makes life a lot easier for the emcee. Every single emcee program I have done has gone smoothly as a result.

These tips and many others are included in the booklet “How to Be a Great Emcee,” available for download for only $4.95.

These tips have been collected from top professional speakers who know how to run a meeting successfully.