The primary objective for anyone who delivers a speech is the same regardless of the situation or objective. You strive to win the battle for the hearts and minds of your audience. That’s the responsibility of any speaker, presenter, or leader—to inspire, persuade, and most important of all, provoke change. In order to win this battle, your approach to the beginning and end of your speech/presentation is critical. I call this the Primacy/Recency Effect – it is the first commandment in my Top 10 Commandments of Greater Communicators.
I learned the importance of the first commandment chiefly from Lou Eccleston, the CEO of Canada’s TMX Group. Lou is an inspiring leader who uses the Primacy/Recency Effect as a powerful tool and guiding principle to capture and sustain stakeholder attention. He is, quite simply, the best communicator I’ve worked with in my career.
“People are like pieces of human-direct mail,” he once told me. “You have a few seconds to get their attention. If you open up with everything is great, that’s what they are going to hear. They stop listening right there.” He realized a critical element to audience engagement: you need to grab your colleagues’ attention quickly and follow with a captivating and memorable call to action.
With the need for 1,400 employees to develop a mind-set of growth, responsiveness, and transformation, he used the Primacy Effect to set the tone. “TMX is a great company and its people work hard, but the situation is urgent,” he told his team.
TMX employees needed to change the way they thought, behaved, and acted in order to improve results. Lou firmly acknowledged they had great operating skills but needed to do a better job of spearheading lasting change. In short, TMX employees not only needed an effective communicator that would cause them to listen and inspire them to take action, they themselves needed to develop exceptional communication skills. Effective communication is a bridge by which you travel across and find worth. “We were good at advocating but bad at communicating,” he said. “There’s a big difference.”
It took more than the Primacy/Recency Effect for a complete business transformation to occur – but it’s that very principle that was the catalyst for change. The way employees were communicated to, educated, inspired, and motivated, set in motion an era of improvement. Lou set a positive tone despite enormous pressure to exceed expectations. He once told me, “If you don’t create urgency to change, people won’t. It has to bring out the positive, otherwise you won’t have any action.”
To maximize impact, Lou always ended his speeches with a direct address to his audience. They always walked away confident but also feeling that sense of urgency to enact change. You can be the inspiration and catalyst for change – start with an effective opening and closing and you’ll be well on your way.
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