Writing a speech isn’t easy for everyone. Whether it’s because you have a fear of public speaking or if you’re just not sure how to handle the material, there are inevitably some hurdles to overcome when preparing a speech. One of the most difficult aspects of your process can be knowing how to start a speech.
The beginning of a speech sets the tone for the rest of your presentation. It’s key in holding your audience’s attention and making a powerful first impression. When you start your speech you establish your credibility and create the atmosphere you’re looking for.
This is a pretty standard way of beginning your speech.
That being said, it can be helpful for you if you’re someone who isn’t totally comfortable with public speaking. You might need a moment to steady yourself and adjust your volume. This opening is perfect for grounding you before you launch into your actual speech. It’s also appropriate in settings where you should defer to the organization or audience.
In many cases, starting this way can act as simply a prologue for the actual beginning of your speech, but it’s a good place to start if you’re at a loss when wondering how to start a speech.
Starting off with a quote is a classic strategy for beginning a speech.
Sometimes, it feels like you don’t have quite the right words available. Chances are, someone in the past has said what you’re trying to say in exactly the right way. Using a quote will guarantee that you get your speech headed in a good direction right from the start.
When you’re considering how to start a speech, one of your first priorities should be getting your audience’s attention.
Nothing captures an audience’s attention quite like capturing their imagination.
If you introduce a hypothetical scenario related to the problem or topic that you are discussing they have to participate from the outset. The audience meets you halfway and engages with your material from the very first words you speak.
Depending on your topic, the hypothetical scenario could be negative or positive.
If you are presenting a solution to a problem, it’s a good idea to present a positive future, possibly through the solution you are asking them to consider. If you want to bring the audience’s attention to a societal ill or to a specific issue, it could be a good idea to force them to imagine themselves in a negative situation with your topic at the core.
This will make your topic immediate and personal to them, even if they might not initially relate to what you’re discussing.
Another way to grab your audience’s attention and force them to interact with your material is through rhetorical questions.
When you start out by asking your audience a question, they will automatically consider what their answer is in their heads. This can imitate the feeling of a dialogue with them, even if you aren’t having a one-on-one conversation.
After you ask the questions, consider stating a few of what you think would be the most popular answers. This shows that you know your audience. If you reveal your answer to the questions, you’re establishing a relatable tone, and creating a more intimate atmosphere with your listeners.
If you’re stressed over how to start a speech, remember: there’s a good chance that you know more about your speech topic than your audience does.
Because of this, it can be easy to pique their interest at the beginning of your speech with a statistic or some recent research findings. An engaged audience will want to find out what else they can learn from you.
Your credibility immediately gets a boost from this sort of knowledge, so that your audience trusts you for the rest of the time you’re behind the podium.
Sometimes it can be good to switch things up at the beginning.
Listeners often assume that they know how a presentation or speech is going to go. When you start out your speech with a shocking statement that runs counter to their expectations, you can snap them out of the notion that they know everything you’re going to say.
This strategy gets your audience ready to listen to you, even if they are already familiar with the topic.
Nothing warms the room quite like a good joke.
Even if you’re dealing with a dry subject, working a joke into your opening can get your listeners to like you. If they think you’re funny, they’ll be less likely to assume that the speech will be boring and more attentive to what you have to say.
Everyone has problems. Whether the topic of your speech deals with a problem that happens at the personal level, or one that’s a global issue, presenting the situation in clear terms gets your audience engaged with a sense of urgency.
Once they realize you’re going to be educating them on possible solutions, they’ll be paying attention.
When you’re considering how to start a speech, remember that personal stories can have an extremely high-impact. When you’re standing onstage or behind a podium, there’s a distance between you and your listeners. You want to bridge that gap by making yourself relatable to them.
Recounting a personal anecdote can also prove to your audience how invested you are in your topic. Whether you’re discussing something heavy or light, showing your audience it matters to you on a personal level will inspire their trust in your research.
True stories are a way of making yourself vulnerable to your listeners. They will reward that vulnerability with their focus.
Encourage your audience to close their eyes and imagine something related to your topic. Using strongly textured language, describe something to them in detail, so that they have a high definition image in their heads.
This strategy invites your listeners into your world. Once they’re there, they’ll be ready to hear you out.
The topic, the atmosphere, and the audience should help you determine how to start a speech. When you understand these variables, your options should become clear to you.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with different openings. Ask a friend or family member to listen to the variations and tell you what they found the most effective.
No matter the strategy you go with, remember that the beginning of your speech can decide how the audience engages with the rest of your material. You want to gain their attention, and their trust. With these strategies, you can accomplish that in just a few words.
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After graduating from law school and passing the bar, I struggled to find work, pay my bills, and make ends meet. That's when I decided to take control of my future and start working for myself. Now, several years and a handful of companies later, I'm sharing how I launched a successful business, and how you can do it too.