You Will Never Guess What Lady Di Said to Toyah at the Head Table

Technique: Open Your Speech in the Middle of a Conversation

Most presenters who know what they are talking about aren’t bad once they get started. Very few of the professionals I have worked with, however, know how to open and close their presentations effectively.

Toyah Willcox singer and actress had a conversation at s head table.

No matter what opening option you use, good presentations begin comfortably. That is why I call this technique, “Start in the Middle of a Conversation.”

My sister-in-law, British singer and actress Toyah Willcox, was sitting at a head table with Princess Diana. Yes, the REAL Princess Diana. They were at a Woman of the Year awards luncheon in London. Lady Diana said, “Do you ever feel like running into the street and shouting,

‘Don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers?’”

If you were delivering a presentation on PR, publicity, getting known, the audiences’ misconceptions, or even networking, the “brush with fame approach” would be a great way to begin. It is almost as if you were in the middle of a conversation with a friend.

My friend John Cantu was a San Francisco comedy legend. He ran the Holy City Zoo Comedy Club where many of the greats like Robin Williams, Dana Carvey, and Paula Poundstone got their start.

John Cantu
Comedy legend John Cantu was the founder of the Holy City Zoo in San Francisco.

He was delivering a presentation on “How to Be Funny Without Looking and Feeling Foolish” at one of my speaking schools. As you may know, one of my recommendations for internalizing your speech is to move. This helps the rhythm of your presentation.

I suggested to John, “Let’s walk in Golden Gate Park to discuss your presentation.” John did not realize that we would be rehearsing! Before he launched into what he would say, I asked about his memories of running the Holy City Zoo. Although John did not realize it, I was looking for a conversational way for him to begin his presentation.

John said, “When I was running the Holy City Zoo Comedy Club, we didn’t have a liquor license. We sold only beer and wine. We needed the comedians to keep the audience for as long as possible. I stood at the door and listened to what the clients said as they left. You wouldn’t believe what they were saying about Robin Williams in the beginning of his career. ‘What was the guy doing with the woman’s handbag? You know, the one with the girls’ name?’”

As soon as I heard that, I said, “John, that is it! That is how you open your presentation. It so perfectly represents that even with natural talent, Robin Williams, too, had to learn the techniques to hone his skill.”

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