People can make or break their speeches with the opening lines. You can have your audience dozing off within minutes if you have a poor beginning. Don’t get ignored from the minute you open your mouth.
Open strongly and grab the audience’s attention.
How many beginnings are there to a speech?
Guess what? There’s one. That’s right. One. You have one beginning to your speech. That’s one opportunity to open strongly. To make impact. To make everyone sit up. To grab their attention. To startle them. To surprise them. To make them think. To make them laugh. To make them cry.
So let’s look at how to not start a speech.
Unless your business or employer or decorum requires you to start with, ‘My speech today is about X, Y and Z…” then please don’t start this way:
Thanks for coming here today.
Is everyone seated?
Are we just about ready?
I wasn’t expecting this many people.
It’s so lovely to see you all here.
The weather’s turned bad. I didn’t bring an umbrella.
Don’t laugh! I’ve seen this – a lot!
Now let’s look at some ways to effectively begin our speeches. Please note that after all these opening statements, we pause. We pause so the audience has a moment to think about what we’ve said. Then we continue on.
Start with a question.
Where do you want to be in five years?
Who do you think assassinated John F Kennedy?
What would we need to do to double our business?
How can we make ourselves the most successful business of our kind in this country?
Start with a startling statement. Start with something that makes people sit up and think, ‘Wow, that’s surprising’ or ‘Imagine that.’
If laid end to end, the blood vessels in a single human body would stretch over 100,000 miles long.
The first time I met my father was when I was thirty-one.
Our business has tripled in the last ten years.
Start with a humorous remark. People love humour. It creates a two way conversation with the audience. But please don’t start with a joke unless it’s a really funny joke, and people don’t know it. Starting with an unfunny or old joke is a bad idea. Try to start with something that’s not well known. Sometimes this is hard to gauge.
Winston Churchill said a good speech needs to be like a woman’s skirt. Long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to create interest.
A lot of people ask me if I were shipwrecked, and could only have one book, what would it be? I always say, ‘How to Build a Boat.’
There are better things than coffee. No, there’s not. Just kidding.
These are a beautiful way to start, but make certain you begin with something that’s clear to people. I’ve seen people start with quotations that are so complex that you’d need an hour to think about them.
There’s this quote by Jim Rohn:
Success is not to be pursued; it is to be attracted by the person you become.
This is an interesting quote, but will an audience immediately understand it? Even with a well placed pause, they might need time to consider it. You don’t want your audience sitting there pondering your quote when you’re half way through your speech.
Try going with something easier such as:
Be yourself, everybody else is already taken.
Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.
How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
These are the sorts of quotes that make people think, ‘Yes, that’s true’ or ‘That makes sense.’
Start with an amazing statistic. Something that makes people think, ‘I didn’t know that!’ For example:
Five hundred million tweets are sent every day.
300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every single minute.
The average American woman owns 30 outfits. That’s one for every day of the month. Back in 1930, that figure was nine.
As you can see, there’s lots of ways to start your speech. You’ve only got one opportunity to grab the audience’s attention. Why not start big? Why not grab their attention with your first line and have them hanging on your every word?
Begin with impact!