Speech Introduction

Eight Important Ways to Start a Speech

“It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” ( To Start a Speech )

-Mark Twain

It is that horrible moment again when your name is called to the stage, and you realise that you haven't accounted for this kind of turnout. You almost feel a churning in the stomach at the self-doubts that are now plaguing you— Would they care about what I have to say? Would I be able to articulate my thoughts clearly and concisely? Would they engage with the material? Would I come across as authentic or as an impostor? 

In the days leading up to today, you have the entire script mapped out— how you are going to start it, pace it and end it before opening it up to the Q&A but the moment you see the faces in front of you, you freeze because you think that audience is going to judge you! Well, the harsh truth is, you are right! Your audience is going to judge you from the moment you step on that stage. The best way to overcome these fears (and they are all real fears!) is to confront them, not to hide from them. 

In this article, we will discuss speech introduction, eight ways to start a speech that will enable you to make a positive first impression on your audience the moment you set foot on that stage:

  1. Thank the audience and the organisers: This is something you should be doing anyway! If it weren't for the audience and the organisers, you would not have the platform to start a speech. You should start your address by thanking the audience for coming and thanking the organisation for inviting you to speak.

Refer to the person who introduced you (it’s a good idea to know about that person beforehand). You can also thank one or more senior people in attendance. This makes them feel proud and cared for and connects you immediately to the audience. 

  1. Start on a positive note always: There is nothing your audience will like more than you reassuring them that they will benefit from what you have to share with them.

You could, for example, say to them:

“You are going to enjoy the time we are going to spend together this evening. I am really excited to share my research findings on the way we can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels in the next twenty years and rely increasingly on renewable sources of energy.”

  1. Compliment the audience: You should then move on to thanking the audience for their time and their presence. Make sure you are thanking them with great sincerity and respect. When you are thanking them, smile to let them know what their presence means to you. You could tell them that it is an honour for you to be speaking to them and that you are excited to share some critical insights with them.

You could, for example, say to them:

“It's an honour to be here amongst you, and I cannot thank you enough. You are the top 5% of people in the industry, and only the best people would brave the odds to come so far for a conference like this.”

  1. Start by mentioning the current event(s): It’s a good idea to bring something like a newspaper as a prop. You can hold it up as you talk about a news item that caught your attention and one that you think your audience would resonate with. The advantages of doing this are twofold:
  • You can break the ice with the audience by talking about an article, for example, that a lot of people in the audience could be familiar with
  • You can focus the audience's attention toward what you are saying because by when you are holding a newspaper up, the members in the audience would want to lean forward to engage with what you have to say
  1. Refer to a historical event: Using a historical event to drive home your point is a very potent way to make an impression with your audience. Imagine you are consulting a company’s executives who are thinking about slashing their prices to a point where they will make losses just so that they don’t lose market share to their main competitor. You can use an analogue from history to let them know why that strategy is only going to bring ruin and destruction.

You could, for example, say to them:

“Pyrrhus, a kind of Epirus, defeated the Romans in 279 BCE but lost many of his troops. So, any victory that comes at a devastating cost to the victor is referred to as a ‘Pyrrhic Victory'. And yes, you might be successful in retaining market share, but that would eat into your bottom line, and if in a bid to gain market share, your EPS goes down, I don't need to tell you what your shareholders are going to think about that!” 

  1. Make a shocking statement: Here’s an example from a TED talk given by Pamela Mayer:

“Okay, now I don’t want to alarm anybody in this room, but it’s just come to my attention that the person to your right is a liar.” 

What do think a statement like this would do. I can guarantee that the moment you say something shocking like this, the audience is waiting, with bated breath, what’s coming next.

  1. Quote from recent research: Let’s take an example from an earlier article published on the website. Granted that it was an article, not a speech, but the rules of engaging with the audience don’t change. You may need to tweak the research to ensure that it resonates with your audience. 

“Did you know that professionals spend, on an average, 28% of the workday (approx. 2.6 hours/workday)reading and answering emails according to a McKinsey report. A Loughborough University study found that it takes an average of 64 seconds for people to return to the same rate of work at which they left it.” 

Now, the benefits of citing recent research are two-fold:

  • Findings of the research give some evidence to the claims that you are making, thereby immediately building credibility with your audience.
  • Citing research to start a speech signals to the audience that you have put in hours (and a lot of care) preparing for the speech.
  1. Be entertaining: If you do all the seven steps we have discussed so far, but are not able to entertain the audience, the chances are that your audience is not going to be able to engage with what you have to say. 

Bill Gove, widely considered the father of professional speaking, would often go the edge of the stage and drop his voice, beckoning his audience to come closer. He would then say something like this:

”Come here, let me tell you something.”

And then would wave them forward as if he was about to share a secret with the entire room. People would lean forward to listen in to this “secret”. When they realised what they were doing, the whole hall would break out in laughter. And this is the real secret: if you can get the audience to laugh, you know that you have connected with them.

The key to start a speech involves knowing what you are good at and doing more of it: pushing your boundaries in terms of different ways to start a speech; telling your story; getting feedback on what works and what doesn’t and most importantly staying connected with yourself through all this. You would do well to heed Maya Angelou’s advice every time you step on a stage:

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”