Opening Your Speech

Imagine yourself at mission control; 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – Speak!

When the space shuttle blasts off – those first few seconds of lift are critical. It comprises a small portion of the total journey, yet if someone errors – they crash and burn. The beginning of your speech is much the same. If you error in the opening your speech will crash and burn.

The mission of your opening is to 1. Grab their interest; 2. Establish rapport; 3. Introduce your topic. Here are 10 techniques you can use to launch your successful speech.

10. Startling statement. Use a strong attention grabbing statement – with facts, statistics or unusual information. “The greatest fear is to speak in public. The second greatest fear is to die.”

9. Suspense/ Surprise. Start with a suspense-building sentence or take them in one direction – then hit them with surprise. “It was a dark and stormy night – it was my wedding night.”

8. Story/Anecdote. Tell a short story. Begin your story with the word imagine. It is an engaging word. “Imagine that we could travel back in time to witness the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk.”

7. Quotation. When you use a quotation you tap into the credibility and power of the person who stated those words. “I have a dream, cried out Martin Luther King Jr.” Quote from people well known and well liked by your audience.

6. Challenging Question. Questions are always powerful and engaging. This could be a rhetorical question. “Are you ready for the millennium? When the clock ticks over to January 1, 2000, will planes be falling and computers crashing?”

5. Compliment the audience. Be sincere – don’t say, “You are the most beautiful audience I have ever seen.” Instead say something that impressed you about the group, ‘I am very impressed with the hospitality shown to me by you today. This lives up to the reputation I have heard about your community work.’

4. Occasion. Comment on the occasion – especially if it is an anniversary or awards night. “To speak to you on your 10th annual awards dinner is an honour.” Or uncover some information about the group that outsiders would not normally know. “Happy Birthday to your founding president.” This takes a little research – and is worth it.

3. Prop or visual. Catch their attention and set the mood with a funny hat, uniform, or stuffed bear. Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), would blow a cloud of smoke on stage before he made his entrance. It always got a laugh. You might roll a ball across the stage or play with a yo-yo. What you do before you speak can be powerful.

2. Previous speaker. Pick up on something a previous speaker said or did – especially if that was the president or chairman of the board. Build on what they said. It shows that you listened and gives you more credibility if you agree with the boss. Before you speak ask a participant, “What was the funniest thing that happened so far?” Try to build on this to get a laugh. Comedians call this technique a call back.

1. Engage the audience. Ask a question that requires the audience to answer, or one that is sure to make them laugh. “How many of the women in the audience have had an affair with Bill Clinton? – – How many of the men?”

Bonus tips:

o Don’t start with “My topic is…” or “Today I am going to talk about…” Both of these are boring.

o Never start with an apology. “I’m sorry we are running late.” “I’m sorry the president couldn’t be here.” “I’m sorry about the meal.”

o Once you take your position on stage, enjoy a long pause before you speak. Silently count “1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi”.

o Smile as you first look around the audience. Look like you are happy to be there even if you don’t feel that way.

o Get them to laugh early. You’ll feel better and they will decide to like you sooner.

We return to Mission Control.

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – Close – and that’s another story.