“I’m always nervous when I start a presentation, but if I can just get through the first five minutes, then I’m okay.” Have you ever heard someone say that—or have you said that yourself? I’ve got bad news for you. You don’t have five minutes to find your groove. Some say your listeners will form their first impression of you in one minute or less. I think it happens in five seconds.

Whether it’s five seconds, thirty seconds or sixty seconds, the reality is, your listeners will decide very quickly whether they’re going to give you their full attention or check messages. You don’t have time to get over your nerves. You have to show up immediately and command their attention. Here are five tips to help you crush the first five seconds.

Warm up. Public speaking is a physical activity. Like any athlete or musician, you need a warm-up if you’re going to start strong. Why would you do that onstage in front of a live audience? The warm-up happens backstage, before the show. It should cultivate relaxation, open and energized breath flow and rich, engaging vocal resonance.

Be prepared. Create an introduction that grabs the attention of your listeners and makes them care about your message. Be so familiar with your opening that you could do it in your sleep. This frees you to establish that crucial first connection with your listeners rather than being preoccupied with what you’re trying to say. Which leads to my next point…

Make eye contact. Effective speech and presentation are all about your relationship with your listeners. You can’t make that connection if you’re staring at your notes, at your slides or the back wall. Don’t scan over the group or occasionally glance up for a split second. Look people in the eye, try to see a real person, and for that moment, speak directly to that person.

Use confident body language. Feel the ground under you. Stand on both feet, with a feeling of expansiveness across your chest and shoulders. Face your audience head on and be a rock. Shifting your weight from one leg to the other makes you look uncomfortable and insecure. Pacing makes you look aimless and unfocused.

Speak with a strong voice. This isn’t a conversation around the water cooler. Public speaking requires more energy, more investment than everyday speech. The first five words out of your mouth have to make the listeners feel like they’re surrounded by your voice. If you’re giving the audience only part of your voice, then they’re only getting part of you.

Public speaking, presentation, requires bravery. You can’t wait to see how the audience is going to respond and then decide how much you’re going to give. You have to set the tone. You have to make the first move. You have to commit and give it everything. Don’t fail to engage them; don’t fail to make an impact, because you didn’t put enough out there.

It’s a harsh reality, but the moment you step up to the front of the room, your listeners are deciding whether you’re worth their full attention or not, and it won’t take them long to decide. Do everything you can to ensure that first impression is a compelling one. Dominate the first five seconds and you will master the minutes that follow.

Thanks for watching. Leave a comment and tell me your techniques for starting strong. I’ll see you in the next video.

Public Speaking: The First Five Seconds

Many people confess to being nervous at the start of a speech or presentation but then settling down and finding their groove within a few minutes. By that time, the damage has been done and your listeners have already tuned out. Here are five tips to make sure you hit the ground running and make a compelling first impression.