You Have to Grab the Audience’s Attention from the Start

Many years ago, I spoke at a women’s group in Cleveland. This particular group was not exactly populated with the youngest crew in town. Wonderful ladies, to be sure— but very seasoned. Regardless, the head of the group gave me a very nice introduction that talked about my growing up in Cleveland and how I was a young man who had come home to practice with our family law firm. A sea of blue hair nodded with approval as I stepped to the podium to find many of our city’s finest steel magnolias beaming up proudly at me.

I have always believed good speakers connect with their audience in the first minute of their speech. Whether it be a quick joke or story, something has to grab the audience. Building trust or establishing a comfort level is the key. So, on this day, I settled in behind the microphone and immediately thanked the group for the invitation to speak. Next, for whatever reason, I veered off my prepared speech and felt the need to explain to the assembled group that I practice law with my father, Ancil Cox, and my cousin, Dana Moore. For that fact alone, I am always a bit nervous I would be introduced in public as working at “Cox and Moore Cox” instead of “Cox & Moore.”

Silence. The room was funeral-quiet for a solid minute.

I smiled, took a deep breath, and began my talk. Then I started to hear some whispers in the room—“Did he just say . . .?” A couple giggles were heard. I soldiered forward with my speech.

As I continued, there were more whispers, more giggles and then finally, some outright laughter about 90 seconds later.

Hearing the laughter, I stopped. I could not resist the chance. I leaned into the microphone as if I was sharing a secret.

“If you haven’t gotten my first joke yet, then it will probably come to them on the way home.”

The room roared with laughter. The ice was broken and I went on with a pleasant talk on the assigned subject.

Many members of the group have become good friends and clients over the years. Maybe they just enjoy giggling when the receptionist answers the phone?!?

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