Eight Important Ways to Start a Speech

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 realize 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? 

ways to start a speech

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:

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. 

2. Start on a positive note always:

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.”

3. Compliment the audience:

You could, for example, say to them:

“It’s an honor 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.”

4. Start by mentioning the current event(s):

  • 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

5. Refer to a historical event:

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!” 

6. Make a shocking statement:

“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, for what’s coming next.

7. Quote from recent research:

“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.

8. Be entertaining:

Bill Gove, widely considered the father of professional speaking, would often go to 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 realized 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 starting 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.”

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