Ten New Ways To Open Your Speech

The following two tabs change content below.
Motivational Speaker Kelly Swanson is an award-winning storyteller, author, and comedian who teaches you how to harness the power of your story to connect, engage, and get results. In this blog, Kelly focuses on the business of professional speaking. Kelly’s post day is Friday. If you aren't sure how to comment on this story, click here.

Latest posts by Kelly Swanson (see all)


If you’re struggling with the opening of your speech, or the closing, or struggling to have some really good stories that are unforgettable, then you need to come to Story Crafting Camp. A place where professionals gather to master the art of connection and engagement through the power of this story. www.StoryCraftingCamp.com

How is the opening of your speech?

We all know that the opening and closing are the two most important moments of your speech. They are the most remembered moments. Today we’re going to talk about the opening.

First of all, I hope you have an opening. I hope you have something that buffers the introduction and you launching into content and telling us what to do.  The opening of a speech serves a very important purpose. More than one. Before I talk about new ways to open your speech, let’s first talk about WHY the opening is so important and what you are trying to accomplish.

  • You’re breaking the energy between whatever has happened before you. If you are speaking at lunch or after a break, or over dinner you have to combat the hustle and bustle of wait staff and clinking silverware.  Sometimes you are following a presenter who was incredibly boring and everybody is texting or sleeping. Or maybe you are following a lot of noise and flash and music and dancing, and you’re the quiet one who has to come up and follow all that noise.  No matter what you follow, the truth remains: You are the energy buffer. You have to get their attention and change the energy in the room.
  • This is your first real introduction to your audience. You are meeting them for the first time. So meet them! Introduce yourself much in the same way you would whenever you meet someone new.  Don’t know what to talk about? Start with what most of America starts with at cocktail parties – what’s your name, where are you from, what do you do for a living.  Don’t assume that your introduction was really an introduction. It wasn’t. And nobody was really listening anyway. Introductions are personal.  Introduce yourself before you jump into telling us what we need to do.
  • You have to grab our attention and show us that this is going to be worth our time. Just like the first chapter of a book reels the reader in, so should your speech. If you think you have our attention because we have to sit here, you’re wrong.  Lose us in the beginning and chances are good you won’t ever get us back. Show me that this is going to be worth my attention.
  • Establish likeability soon.  You are a sales person up there, selling me something to believe or learn. We buy from people we like, trust, believe, and feel like we know.  Establish a connection before you start telling me what I should learn. Get to know me before you earn the right to convince me.
  • Tell me why you’re here and what I’m going to learn today. I know it’s in the program, but I didn’t read it. Show me where this is going and I’ll be happy to follow.
  • Illustrate the problem that I have that you are here to fix. Get me to agree I have this problem before you teach me how to fix it.  Don’t tell me what you think I need to know. Shine a light on a problem I have or a desire I have and show me how you can help me fix it or get it. Speak to my pain or desire right away.
  • Show me you’re happy to be here with my group, and what we have in common.

I know.  Wow. That’s a lot to accomplish isn’t it?  And, sadly, many speakers don’t do any of this, and wonder why they aren’t booked more.

Ten New Ways to Open

You may be wondering how you could even have room to fit a new opening in, with all these objectives. But you can.  Opening in a new and different way is a matter of delivery style, not content. You can do an opening that ties into any of these objectives – probably even more than one.

Let’s say that you love magic tricks. Pick a trick that will wow the crowd, then we’re you’re finished, point out how sometimes there are things going on around us that we can’t see, especially when it comes to our marketing. And how you’re here today to point out the hidden obstacles in our SEO. Or something like that. You get the picture.

When I’m looking for creative ways to open a speech, I just start looking at cool ways to open it. I don’t worry about the content. I can usually find a way to tie it into one of my opening objectives. I thought it would be cool to open up a speech talking to myself in the mirror and letting the audience listen in. It’s still one of my most powerful pieces to date.

OR…..I head to one of my objectives and figure out a clever way to illustrate it.  For example, I may want to let you know in my opening introduction that I’m from the South. Instead of just telling you I’m from the South, I decided to read to you a top ten list of ways to tell if someone is from the South.  Just a clever way of showing instead of telling.

I’m going to list some ideas for opening up a speech. Use any of them, all of them, or perhaps they will trigger creative ideas of your own.

1. Start with a story or a comedy bit. You can’t go wrong by starting with a quick five minute story that illustrates why you’re here, introduces yourself, etc.

2. Start with half a story, tell them you’ll pick up later, and end the story at the end of your speech. I call that book-ending your speech with a story.  (It’s also fun to tell the story in pieces all the way throughout, but requires a lot more prep work.)

3. Start with a story, and then have another story at the end that relates to the first story. For example, I have a story about Frankie Scarpetta dancing with his wife. At the end of my speech I tell another story about a woman meeting the man of her dreams. You find out at the end of the story that she’s the woman in the first story.  Pretty cool.

4.  Come up to the stage from somewhere unique.  I’m always looking for things that are traditionally done by speakers, and try to go against the grain.  So if all the speakers come from back stage, I might decide to come from the back of the room – or even the middle of the audience. Wouldn’t that be cool!  You could trick the people around you who never realize the speaker is sitting right there in the row with them.  It’s those tiny things that make a big difference in the experience.

5. Don’t stand in the “regular” place or position. I saw a speaker deliver a speech from a wingback chair. And one from a stool. And another standing on a chair like he was skiing.  Sometimes I will even lean against the podium. Just to give the audience the subtle feel of something different.

6.  Use lighting if you have it.  If I’m going to be speaking on a big stage after lots of music and flash and noise, I might decide to have the stage go dark and one lone spotlight light me up.  Again, I like to go against what was done before.

7.  Use music. Walk on music is fine, but it sure is done to death. It’s okay to use it, but that doesn’t count as your unique opening. If you danced your way up the aisle to the stage, now THAT would count. Or come up singing. I do that all the time. The audience looks at you like you’re an idiot, but you have their undivided attention for sure.

8. Start by playing a game. This is fun if you have a good amount of time to speak, and you want to get the audience involved.

9. Start with a video. Be careful with this.  Make sure it’s unique. Starting with a flashy commercial about yourself that lasts forever isn’t as impressive as you think it is, unless it was done on CNN or something.

10. Disguise yourself as someone else.  A couple of times I have dressed up as the hotel wait staff. My speech was on the danger of blending in.  They loved it!

Wow. I’m just getting started.  Okay. Two more.

Look at the problem you want to illustrate. Find a way to act that problem out in a unique way. This is hard to explain and can look a lot of different ways. Let’s say that you’re speaking on stress and the problem is that people are stressed out. Their typical day is filled with way too many things to do. So act out a typical day in your house. Tell me all the things you have to do. Exaggerate it. Go at a fast pace. Put some silly stuff in.  Show me how crazy it can get in your world.  I once had a friend who wanted to do something like this. So we had her walk in from the back of the room reading out of her DayTimer. We had created a funny long list of all the things she had to do today. There were some really quirky things on the list that made it really fun. The audience loved it. I know because I was in the audience.

And my last suggestion…….create a monologue.  This is a vignette to tell the world who you are  – the story of you – in five minutes or less.  We don’t care about everything you’ve done, how much money you’ve made, or how big your house is. And for gosh sakes, don’t show me a new picture of your sports car. Bleh.  Show me your quirks. Tell me about your favorite show. Tell me what food you’re addicted to. Tell me about the man you married and how many kids you have.  Tell me that you’re pretty sure one of your legs is longer than the other, and that the world is going to end in 2025.  There are no right and wrong answers. Just be you. Chances are pretty good, it’s enough.

If you want more ideas, come join us at Story Crafting Camp in June. This is EXACTLY the kind of thing we’ll be talking about. www.StoryCraftingCamp.com