How do you open a speech?
Public speaking dreamers need to understand that the opening and closing of speeches are the two most important moments of a speech. Openings and closings are the most remembered moments by an audience.
Today I’m going to talk about great speech openings.
First of all, I hope you have an opening to your speech. I hope you have words to buffer the introduction of you to the audience before launching into content and telling listeners what to do.
How you open a speech serves a critical purpose. Before I talk about new great ways to begin your address, let me first talk about WHY your speech opening is so urgent and what you are trying to accomplish with your opening lines.
The purpose of your speech opening is:
• You’re breaking the energy between what happens before you speaking at the event.
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 dull 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 of the sounds.
No matter what you follow, the truth remains: You are the energy buffer. You have to get the audience’s attention and change the energy in the room.
• The speech opening is your first real introduction to your audience. You are meeting the audience for the first time–so meet them!
Introduce yourself much in the same way you do whenever you meet someone new. Don’t you know what to talk about? Start with what most of America starts with at cocktail parties–what’s your name, where are you from, and what do you do for a living. Don’t assume that your introduction was an introduction. It wasn’t. And nobody was listening anyway.
Introductions are personal. Introduce yourself before you jump into telling the audience what they need to do.
• You have to grab the listener’s attention and show them your speech will be worth their time.
Just like the first chapter of a book is intended to reel in the reader, so should your speech. If you think you have the audience’s attention because they have to sit there–you’re wrong. Lose the listener in the beginning and chances are good you won’t ever get them back.
Show the crowd that your speech is going to be worth their undivided attention.
• Establish likeability right away.
You are a salesperson up there, selling me something for the public to believe or learn. People buy from people they like, trust, believe, and feel like they know. Establish a connection before you start telling the assemblage what they should learn.
• Tell people why you’re there and what they will learn today.
The audience may know what you are doing is in the program, but they didn’t read it. Show the audience where your speech is going, and they’ll be happy to follow.
• Illustrate the problem that I have that you are there 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 the audience you’re happy to speak to the group, and what you have in common.
Commonality creates a connection and relaxes the audience. Every trusting relationship is guided by a commonality of purpose.
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. Now, for the good part of this story. I’m going to list ten ideas for opening a speech. Use any of them, all of them, or perhaps they will trigger more creative ideas of your own.
10 Great Ways to Open a Speech
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 account 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 backstage, 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 didn’t realize a keynote speaker is sitting in the row with them. It’s the tiny details that make a big difference in the audience’s 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 scene go dark, and one lone spotlight is lighting me. 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.
Open a speech with playing a game is fun if you have a right 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 is on CNN or something big with a lot of virality.
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!
You may be wondering how you could even have room to fit a new opening in, with all these objectives. But you can. Speech opening in a new and different way is a matter of delivery style–not content. You can do a speech opening tieing into any of these objectives–probably even more than one.
Let’s say that you love magic tricks. Pick a method that will wow the crowd, then when you finish, point out how sometimes there are things going on around the audience they can’t see, especially when it comes to marketing. And how you’re here today to point out the hidden issues to their social media marketing. Or something along those marketing lines. You get the picture.
When I’m looking for creative ways to open a speech, I only begin with looking at fresh ways to open a speech. I don’t worry about the speech content. I can usually find a way to tie my vivacity beginning into my commencement objectives. Once, I thought it would be cool to open up a speech talking to myself in the mirror and let the audience listen in. It’s still one of my most powerful speech kickoffs to date.
Or I look to one of my speech objectives and figure out a smart way to illustrate it. For example, I may want to let the listeners know in my opening introduction that I’m from the U.S. South. Instead of just telling the audience I’m from the South, I read a top ten list of ways to know if someone is from the South with my thickest Southern accent. Just a clever way of showing instead of telling.
Wow. Okay. 2 More Speech Opening Ideas:
11. 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 about stress and the problem is that people are stressed out. Their typical day is filled with too many tasks that need finishing. So act out a typical day in your house. Tell the audience all the things you have to do. Exaggerate it. Go at a fast pace. Put some silly stuff in. Show the listener how crazy your world can become.
I once had a friend who wanted to do something similar in her speech. 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 very fun. The audience loved it. I know because I was in the audience.
12. And my last suggestion is to create a monologue.
This is a vignette to tell the world who you are–the story of you–in five minutes or less. The gathering of listeners does not care about everything you’ve done, how much money you’ve made, or how big is your house. And for gosh sakes, don’t show the audience a new picture of your sports car. Bleh. Show them your quirks. Tell them about your favorite show. Tell them about your food addiction. Tell them about the man you married and how many kids you have. Tell them that you’re pretty sure one of your legs is longer than the other, and that the world is going to end in 2025.
Chances are pretty good; it’s exactly how to open a speech.
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