Article Category: Book Reviews

Book Review: Better Beginnings by Carmen Taran

Better Beginnings by Carmen TaranYou know that the start of your presentation is critical to grab attention. [You did read Peter Jeff’s recent article with 5 ways to start your speech, right?]

But do you know how to develop a mindset that will enable you to devise effective speech openings?

Carmen Taran’s Better Beginnings: How to capture your audience in 30 seconds is a one-of-a-kind book entirely dedicated to helping you master this critical speaking skill.

This article is the latest of a series of public speaking book reviews here on Six Minutes.

What’s Inside? A Coffee Table Book about Speaking?

Good intros make listeners hold their heads still and focus, with widened eyes and parted or pouted lips. These body cues should be your measurement for delivering great beginnings.

-- Carmen Taran

The format of the book is unique relative to other books reviewed on Six Minutes — it’s a coffee table book! On every other page, you will find a full-page photograph to complement the writing and further spark your creativity.

Because of all the images, Better Beginnings is a quick read. Most books that I review take me two weeks to read through. I finished Better Beginnings in just two relaxing evenings before bed.

Visually, this book will stand out from every other one on your bookshelf, your coffee table, or your bedside table.

The Price

At the time of writing this review, you can get this hardcover book for $23.95 through

Given that the book is filled with full-color photographs, that price seems low to me, simply from a cost-of-printing perspective.

Most readers seem to like the value.

What’s the best thing about Better Beginnings?

Most speech opening advice begins by telling you the types of openings you can try. For example, you might open with a personal story, a startling statistic, or a quotation. However, none of these types of openings are inherently focused on your audience. (A story or statistic can be focused on the audience, but it might not be.)

I really like the approach taken in Better Beginnings because it is organized not around types of openings, but according to the emotional or cognitive response you would like to trigger in your audience. Audience-focused!

Better Beginnings guides you to spark the desired response in your audience, with the following chapters:

A good speaker with bad beginnings is like a fitness trainer who smokes.

-- Carmen Taran
  • Anticipation
  • Specificity
  • Inquiry
  • Incongruity
  • Novelty
  • Uncertainty
  • Complexity
  • Ease of Comprehension
  • Indulgence
  • Staging

Each chapter includes numerous examples to illustrate how you can generate the desired response in your audience. This includes not only what to say, but how to say it and stage it. Consider these examples:

Incongruity (conflict between what your audience expects and what is actually said)

Like many of the great blues and jazz artists of our time, I found myself onstage at Carnegie Hall high on drugs.”

Novelty (new ideas competing with existing norms)

Our customers have been used to square tea bags. What if we made them round?

How could it be better?

Simply, I’d like a bit more depth. Though I love the fact that this has a coffee table book format and was a quick read, I would like to see more depth offered. A more diverse set of speech examples would make it easier for readers to apply the lessons to their own speeches.

Also, how about a companion book like Better Endings? Speech openings and conclusions are intimately tied, and I would love to see similar treatment for speech endings.

About the Author – Carmen Taran

Carmen Taran has a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Design, a Master’s degree in Multimedia Design, and a Doctorate in Instructional Technology. She is a co-founder of Rexi Media, a presentation skills consulting firm.

In the brief video below, she pitches the key strengths of Better Beginnings.

YouTube Preview Image


I think every speaker will benefit from reading Better Beginnings, whether you speak with visuals or off the cuff, to investors or children.

It is the most thorough treatment I’ve ever seen for starting your speech.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for review.

Better Beginnings: How to Capture Your Audience in 30 Seconds by Carmen Taran Andrew Dlugan 3 October 27, 2009 One-of-a-kind! An engaging and thorough treatment for one of the most essential public speaking skills -- how to open your speech.

This article is one of a series of public speaking book reviews featured on Six Minutes.
Subscribe to Six Minutes for free to receive future book reviews.

Comments icon2 Comments

  1. jeff noel says:

    Andrew, nice site. Very thorough in your offerings. Impressed. Found your site on a recommendation from a colleague who thought your Disney article was good. Anyway, just wanted to stop by and say hello. Hope you and your Family have an awesome 2012.

  2. Ram says:

    Carmen Taran Rock!

    I’ve seen so MANY webinars that claimed to help captivate online audiences… But when I saw Carmen in action, I was ACTUALLY glued to the screen.

    She’s a masterful practitioner and an absolute joy to listen to.

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