Public Speaking – Opening Your Speech to Catch the Audience’s Attention

The opening and the closing are the two most important elements of a speech. You should spend the majority of your time writing and rehearsing these two components.

There are three primary objectives to any opening. Firstly, you must grab the audience’s attention. The second objective is to give the audience an idea of what you will be speaking about. Finally, the opening also sets the tone for the speech.

Here a few secrets for brainstorming a memorable opening:

1. Some speakers like to start by posting an interesting question to the audience. The reason why this type of opener works is that it forces the members in the audience to come up with an answer. Eg. – “What is the leading cause of death among teenagers?

2. Another tactic to use is an outrageous or challenging statement to grab attention. An example might be: “Your grandchildren may never see an elephant due to poachers that threaten extinction all in the name of ivory tasks.”

3. You may also look to bridge the opening of your speech by relating something personal to the event. Short Personal Stories work best.

4. Arouse curiosity in the audience. Here is an example from Steve Jobs (founder of Apple) during a commencement speech he gave in 2005: “I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?” This intro makes you curious to learn “why did he drop out of college?”

5. Quotations are often used to open speeches. It is not important that the quotation be famous but rather that the quotation used is relevant. I remember one example when a presenter discussing labor arbitration opened with this quotation by Benjamin Franklin: “A countryman between two lawyers is like a fish between two cats.”

How NOT to Open a Speech

1. Don’t tell a story or a joke that has nothing to do with the speech topic.

2. Don’t try to be funny. There are a dozen easier ways to seize attention.

3. Don’t apologize – eg. “I’m not much of a public speaker but I’ll give it a shot anyway…”