HOW TO! – Begin your Speeches

HOWTOIn the first one or two minutes, the speaker has to hook the attention of the audience. So what makes a good speech opening?

Make a startling statement

Use an intriguing statement that will compel your audience to listen such as ‘Smoking Kills. More Americans die each year than were killed in the battles during World War ll and Vietnam together’. Arouse suspense or curiosity. Compare these two openings.

  1. Hello I’m your speaker and I’m here to give some clues on what foods to avoid so you can have less disease and less stress.
  2. Would you like to add twenty quality years to your life? Then think before reaching for your saltcellar. I am going to share with you ten easy proven steps to add these twenty years to your life.

Tell a story (or anecdote)

Telling an amusing tale or dramatic story or anecdote arouses interest and gets the audience involved. Keep the story relevant to the main points of the speech and personalise it whenever possible, for example instead of beginning ‘Two men were hunting in the woods’ say ‘My brother and I went hunting in the woods’.

Ask a rhetorical question

Ask a question or a series of questions that relate to your speech topic. For instance, in a speech about first aid you could begin by asking ‘Do you know what to do if your child starts to choke?’

Begin with a quotation

Using a quotation is an easy and effective way to attract attention.

The following are some “Don’ts” when beginning your speech.

Don’t use the opening to restate the title of your speech

Every moment counts in creating interest and suspense so don’t go over what is already known.

Don’t open your speech with an apology

Some consider this makes you sound friendly and not pompous but apologies can alert your audience to listen for weaknesses.

Don’t explain your presence

Don’t offer explanations about why you think you were asked to speak. Your friends don’t need it and your enemies won’t believe you anyway.

Don’t say how difficult it was to choose a subject

As far as the audience is concerned you should not doubt the importance of your speech and you should communicate its vital nature.

To summarise: A dynamic beginning is essential for a successful speech. Take time to create an exciting, imaginative beginning that will keep your audience focused on what you have to say. First impressions are very often the lasting impressions so make sure your opening will create immediate interest.

Taken from Speakeasy 133 – March 2010