How to open a speech or presentation successfully – 6 tips!

Start ImageIf the opening line of your speech or presentation doesn’t grab the attention of your audience, you may as well walk out of the room there and then, get in your car and go home.

First impressions count.

Audiences want to be inspired, entertained and stimulated. If our opening (the first impression) doesn’t show promise that we can do this, our audience will quickly switch off.

If they switch off, we have zero chance of getting our message across.

Here’s 6 ways to make your speech opening a real attention-grabber.

At the end of the list is ‘the secret’ – the one thing that links all of the techniques and that you need to know to open a speech or presentation successfully.

The quotation

A relevant quotation from a well known source instantly sets the tone for your speech, sets your audience thinking and can be used as support for the arguments within your speech. For example, for a speech on living life to the full, you could open with the quote by Steve Jobs: “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.”

The question

A rhetorical question gets your audience involved and thinking. Combined with a relevant pause it can make an instant impact. Opening with such a bold technique positions you as a confident and authoritative speaker!

The startling statement

Shock is a great way to grab the attention of your audience. For a sure-fire attention-grabber, find a fact that is relevant, startling and unknown.

The story

Ask your audience to ‘imagine’ and describe a fictional scene. The more bizarre the better. As long as it links to your argument, it’s a great opening. This method gets your audience involved, engaged and instantly makes them a part of your (imaginary) world! Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech is the ultimate example of using a vision or story to inspire your audience.

The anecdote

A short, humourous (and relevant) story is a great way to open a speech and generate a positive mood in the room. Religious leaders often use this technique, using a short and relevant story from their lives to demonstrate a positive point.

The visual

Like a startling fact, a startling or intriguing visual can grab the attention and curiosity of your audience. In crowded, busy rooms, some softly spoken speakers can struggle to grab attention, so letting an image or video do it for you is a great solution.

What’s the secret to opening a speech successfully?

All of the techniques above only work when they are combined with one simple factor: relevance.

Whichever technique you use, always ensure that what you are saying is relevant to your audience.

If we, the audience, have to sit and listen to you, we want to understand what is in it for us.

Make it clear. Make the story, the questions, the quote, the visual, the anecdote or the statement relevant to our situation.

People are selfish, if your speech opening is focused on us, we’re much more interested in what you have to say!

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Rich Watts is the UK Business Speaker of the Year and a past JCI National Public Speaking champion. He setup and now runs Rich Public Speaking providing presentation skills and public speaking training.

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