Public Speaking – Event Warm Ups

So, you’ve got to introduce an act or maybe even host an event, and you’ve got up to 15 minutes to warm up the audience, what do you do? Well, there are many ways to do a warm up. I’m going to discuss a recent warm up I did that was very successful.

I wrote in my previous entry Mr Contest Chair! about getting out of my comfort zone to chair the Humorous Speech Contest (which also ended up including the Table Topics Contest) for the Toastmasters clubs in my area. At this event I felt my public speaking skills were on top form.

I indicated I was surprised at all the commendations I received. I felt that I’d achieved what I’d set out to do and really enjoyed it. In other words I thought I gave a capable, average performance. After attending a more recent speech contest and paying close attention to how the contest chair did the warm-up, I gained some insight as to what I thought worked well with my style of chairing, earning me those commendations.

This is another of the benefits in Toastmasters, you can learn from simply observing each speaker’s speaking style.  Some tend to be serious, some tend to straight talk, some tend to smile a lot, some tend to field questions to the audience, some tend to joke, some tend to be very animated, and so on.

I said I had fun chairing the contests mentioned in my previous post. I understand now that all eyes definitely are on the chair, so the enthusiasm and excitement I was carrying with me must have shone straight through to the audience! After my introductory speech which I had used as an opportunity to deliver an all-encompassing recognition of all contestants and everyone else present that night as winners for what they would learn from the experience, I launched quickly into my warm up exercises.

My first exercise was apparently unconventional – I didn’t see any other area or division contest ask all representatives of each (competing) club present to stand and receive applause. To me this was important, it was a way of recognising everybody that had taken time out of their schedule to be at the contest to support their club’s contestant, or simply to be entertained and hopefully learn something new.

I also made sure everyone that didn’t belong to a competing club (but may or may not have been performing some other functionary role) received applause too. Albeit for only a brief period of time, it gave a face and recognition to each person in the audience that would otherwise have just been a silhouette.

I then gave everyone something to do with a single spoken word game where each person gets to contribute one word to whatever had been spoken by the speakers that spoke before them. Again, it gets everyone involved.

Finally, I did a what I like to call a “sound check” – testing out the audience’s applause. And this was were I got to use my voice and physicality to not only help ensure the reaction was what I wanted, but to also be with the audience rather than just telling them what I wanted to do.

Chair’s Call: In a slow, not too optimistic voice “How do we applaud at a cricket match?”
Audience’s Response: Polite, dispassionate clapping.

Chair’s Call: In a more moderated, slightly upbeat tone “How do we applaud to live music in a bar?”
Audience’s Response: Slightly louder and more appreciative clapping.

Chair’s Call: In a quicker paced, excited, enthusiastic and increasingly louder voice “And How Do We Applaud At A TOASTMASTERS MEETING?”
Audience’s Response: Booming applause with cheers and whoops!

Then I put my arms out in front of me at chest level, right palm over left, and then drew them both out towards their respective side of the body, signalling a cut/silence signal. I paused for everyone to stop applauding, and then quipped with each arm outstretched towards either side of the audience: “Save some of that energy!”

So in a nutshell what made for an effective and appreciated warm up boiled down to four simple ingredients:

  • Make the audience feel appreciated
  • Get everybody to do something, even better get everybody to recognise each other (together with the above point this encourages the audience to share responsibility for the event’s success)
  • Be an enthusiastic chair (you are important and influence the mood for the evening)
  • Ensure the warm-up for an event like this lasts a reasonable amount of time – about 10 minutes, give or take up to 5 minutes either side.