Speech openers can help you grab people’s attention and set the tone of your presentation. You should know how to start a speech properly in order to maximize your chance of success. In this small guide, we’ll explain everything about opening lines so you can create great ones for your future speeches.
Speech Openings Which Immediately Grab Attention
The first few seconds of your speech are crucial for getting the audience hooked. There are various ways to start a speech. Which one you’ll choose depends on your preferences, the type of presentation you’re doing, and the ideas you want to share.
You can start your speech with:
- powerful statements. They can be very effective, but you need to pick strong ones, something relevant that helps you prove a point later in the speech. And stay away from cliche quotes (more on that later).
- a question. If you begin your speech with a question, you’ll immediately engage the audience members. They’ll start thinking about possible answers, so they’ll follow your presentation carefully to get a reply. Naturally, you should ask captivating questions rather than simple ones with an obvious reply. Connect the opening question with the central idea of your speech so you can set the theme and the tone for the main thing that follows.
- a story. To captivate the audience, some public speakers open a speech with a story. By using personal stories, you’ll be able to connect with the crowd. You can also tell a news story to grab people’s attention, but make sure to offer your personal perspective and a unique view of the topic. You don’t need precise details to tell a story. Just start with “Years ago…”, “I used to…”, and other vague statements.
- statistical data. In order to start a speech with statistical information, you need to anticipate the reception. Many people from the audience aren’t huge fans of numbers and stats, so they might lose interest. That’s why it’s best you offer one or two crucial numbers that prove your point. Take a look at Jamie Oliver and his TED talk about food. He had a great opening with frightening statistical data so people could realize the importance of a nutritious diet and listen up.
- silence. Another great way to start your speech can be a long pause. You should avoid the usual greetings such as “Good morning” or “Hello” and just hold on for a moment. Make a strong, confident stance and look at your audience for 4-5 seconds. They’ll be on the edge of their seat waiting for you to say the opening line. But instead, you’ll just carry on as nothing has happened.
- fmi. First Mental Image. “You’re hauling ass down a busy hwy when you see a police officer lights flashing in your rear view mirror.” A first mental image is a wonderful way to captivate your audience as it places them right in the center of a story… as if they’re looking through their own eyes. Keep this brief and find a way to tie your FMI into the topic of your speech.
The tone of the speech is also set by the introduction. A great speech opening can be:
- creative – the “imagine” and “what if” scenarios. For example, Ric Elias started his TED Talk with a story about his plane crash experience. He wanted to amplify the importance of lessons he learned from this experience, so he had people imagine what it would be like going through that. Attention to detail is very important when you’re using this tactic because you want to spark the imagination of the people in the crowd.
- humorous. You can start your speech with a joke or a funny statement, but only if you’re comfortable with using humor. If jokes come to you naturally, use them. If not, it’s better to steer away from a humorous introduction because it might seem forced and fake. And, of course, be sure your audience doesn’t see the joke as offensive. You can try it out on a group of people from your close surroundings to check the reception.
- serious. You should use serious opening lines when you want to position yourself as an authority on the subject. Experts are confident in their knowledge, and their body language shows it. That’s why your ideas, if presented seriously, can have a bigger influence on the audience.
Note that you should combine these approaches. For example, silence should follow a serious powerful statement or statistical data could be presented humorously. Combine everything you can to get your audience interested!
Being Clear and Precise
Every speaker needs to have a clear message, preferably only one. If you have more, you might confuse the audience. A long complex program can’t be easily followed, and your speech won’t be successful. Once you clarify your main point, you’ll have no problems expressing it to others.
Always use simple language and stay away from business jargon. You don’t “sound smart” with complex word structures; you just confuse the listeners. A person that can explain complex things with simple words is the one worthy of listening to, and people know it!
Be precise when describing something. Don’t force people to think too much when trying to figure out any abstract metaphors. In the worst case, you’ll get misunderstand, and in the best case, they’ll ignore you. Being concrete and precise will help you avoid miscommunication so the audience can understand you perfectly.
Make sure to also clearly state the action you want people to take. What can they use from your speech that can change their lives? People want to be inspired, and great speakers know how to do this.
Start With Confidence
We previously stated that confidence is important for public speaking. You need to start your speech confidently and impress people. The usual “Erm… I’m honored to be here… thanks very much for inviting me…” doesn’t make a great impression.
You’ll either wow the audience or lose them with the opening line you choose. That’s a big pressure! Luckily for you, confidence can be learned. Try this simple method: record yourself at home and watch. Write down things you liked about your stance and focus on them in the future. Confidence means you’ll embrace your good qualities with pride.
Just remember: confidence and arrogance aren’t the same! People are perceived as arrogant when they’re completely focused on themselves. You’re there to give a speech to your audience members, not for your own sake. If you keep this healthy audience-oriented mindset, you don’t have to be afraid you’ll come up as arrogant.
To get many people to carefully listen, whether it’s at the event or at the meeting, you need to have a clear idea about what you’re going to say in the first place. Framing the speech is so important! Preparing and practicing will keep you on the right course. It will also help you be relaxed and calm.
Your speech needs a structure, but it doesn’t have to be a strict one. You don’t want to seem robotic, nor should you read something on stage. You need to talk naturally! Just watch a couple of great speeches on TED talk and other platforms. You could also tune in to political speeches – maybe even hear the president talking. The one thing these great speakers all have in common is natural flow!
A speech opening needs to be in direct relation with the rest of the talk. There’s no other way to start. If you come speaking about something random and then shift your focus on a completely different subject, people will lose interest. They’ll think, “Stop with the rabbling and get to the point.” Great speakers know that the point can be incorporated into multiple layers, from the introduction to the ending, and still be effective.
One more thing: speeches need a bit of drama. The opening line can present a problem which you’ll resolve as you’re finishing the speech. Delivering the solution will amplify the message you had for the listeners.
Invite Friends to Hear Your Speech
If you’re nervous because you’ll be giving a speech in front of strangers, don’t hesitate to invite some familiar people to hear you talk when the big day comes. You can ask your friend, mom, dad, or even your grandmother for support. Seeing a friendly face in the crowd will give you the courage and confidence to deliver an amazing opening line and make a great first impression.
Use Props or Videos
Using props, videos, and other additional materials to start a speech should be a judgment call. Sometimes this can really work because it reverses the audience’s expectations. They just expect a speaker and nothing else. If you do more than talking, you’ll immediately get noticed, and people will listen to you more carefully. That’s what Mohammed Qahtani did with a cigarette stunt. People heard his point more clearly because he used a unique prop.
What You Should NOT Do
Now you probably have an idea of how to start a speech, but we just want to amplify some opening lines you should definitely avoid are. When it comes to public speaking, you should never:
- start with a quote. There’s nothing wrong with quotes in the general sense, but everyone is using them. People just choose a popular quote and hope it’s inspiring enough. Unfortunately, these quotes are often blunt and overused, so it’s best you avoid them entirely.
- hesitate. When you’re up on the stage, and your opening line is “Okay… hm.. I just want to…”, you won’t make a good impression. You’ll seem like an insecure person that doesn’t know what to do, nor what to say. Your entire speech can sink with a thing like this! If you don’t have THE opening line, just start your speech directly. Pause for 10 seconds and get straight to the point. It’s way better than rambling and delaying the start.
- use the word “so.” This word is not just too casual, but it also provides a very weak speech opening. You need to come out as strong and get the audience interested, and “so” isn’t helping you do that.
- start with “My name is…” People should already know who you are if you’re properly introduced by the organizers. Repeating your name is redundant, and it takes away the opportunity to deliver a great opening line.
- waste time on greetings and thanks. If you really want to thank the audience and the organizers, leave it for the end.
Tips on Public Speaking
Here are some tips from a well-known public speaker Ken Robinson. He often speaks about education and creativity, but he also talked about public speaking and presentation. His tips are:
- Remember that you’re speaking to individuals, not an abstract audience. It doesn’t matter how many listeners are hearing your speech. You need to speak naturally (in a calm human voice), even if you’re in front of a bunch of people.
- Calm down and breathe. If you’re relaxed, the audience will also be relaxed, and you’ll be able to get your message across more easily. Conversely, if you’re nervous, the audience will also be uncomfortable.
- Keep a conversational tone. If you want your TED talk, business speech, or presentation to be effective, listeners need to be connected with you. That’s the key to good communication. As a public speaker, you shouldn’t act like you’re chatting with friends, but nonetheless, you need to connect with the audience in a friendly manner.
- Know your stuff. If you’re fully prepared to talk about a certain topic, you only need a couple of bullet points on paper to remind you of your speech structure.
- Rehearse the speech but don’t overdo it. You don’t want to sound fake and unnatural because you’ll lose the important connection with the crowd.
- Leave room for improvisation. This tip, of course, isn’t for everyone to follow, but it can be very useful to leave the option of flexibility with your speech. Every time you give a speech will be different, and every audience is unique. That’s why being adaptable will help you connect and engage with the listeners better.
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