First Things First: How To Start A Speech

What should you say first?
What should you say first?
Image Credit: Andre Chinn

Creating a speech is something that I think that all of us put a lot of time into because we understand the importance of public speaking. When we’ve been asked to make a presentation, we take our responsibility seriously and we try to do all of the things that we know that we should do: we research the event that we’ll be talking at, we try to understand who will be in our audience, we build a speech that we think has great content, and we practice giving it so that we’ll do a good job on the big day. However, do we spend enough time on our first words?

It’s All About Your Words

There’s a time honored phrase that everyone seems to know that goes like this “You never get a chance to make another first impression.” When we take the stage (even if there is no stage) and prepare to give our speech, there is a very good chance that a lot of our audience does not know who we are. This speech will serve as our introduction to them. Their long-term view of who we are and the value of the ideas that we bring to the table is going to be formed by what they think of the speech that we are preparing to give.

What this means for us is that we’ve got to do a good job. Doing a good job starts with how our speech starts. I think that we all realize that every audience that we address today has a lot of other things that they could be doing at this very moment. The arrival and ubiquity of cell phones means that if your speech is not doing it for your audience, they can easily tune you out and get back to that game of “Angry Birds” that they’ve been working on all day. The pressure is on us as speakers: we’ve got to not only capture our audience’s attention, but we also have to hold on to it for our entire speech.

What this all comes down to is that the first words out of your mouth when you start to give your speech are going to be the most important words that you say during your entire speech. These are the words that your audience is going to use when they try to make up their minds as to if they want to pay attention to you or instead focus their attention on something else. What this means for you is that you can’t start your speech the wrong way. Don’t waste these valuable words thanking the people who asked you to speech or saying how happy you are to be there.

It’s All About How You Say Your Words

The first words out of your mouth have to have fire in them. You are going to have to use your first words to wake your sleepy audience up and get them riveted on what you are preparing to tell them. This means that you can’t wing this – the first words that come out of your mouth as a part of a speech need to have been very carefully thought out. You have to have spent the time thinking about what you could say about your topic that would grab the attention of everyone that is in your audience.

A small note of caution here. You do want to grab everyone’s attention, but you don’t want to make them angry. You do want to intrigue them, create a sense of curiosity, make them want to learn more. However, if you steer too far of course and provoke them and make them angry, then they really won’t care about what you are going to say next. They will be sitting in their seats thinking about just how much they really don’t like you and they won’t listen to the rest of your speech. Your goal has to be to use your first words to push your audience, but not to push them too far.

When you are delivering the first few words of your speech, you’ll want to remember that you have a powerful tool that you can use in addition to these words that will boost the impact of what you are saying. Simply by adding one or more pauses to your words, you will significantly boost their impact. When you pause, you provide your audience with a moment to allow your words to sink in. They have a chance to fully understand the impact of the words that you are saying and this can go a long way in helping you to make sure that your first words grab your audience’s attention from the very start of your speech.

What All Of This Means For You

As we speak to today’s jaded audiences we need to understand what we are up against. If our words don’t grab their attention and hold it, then they have plenty of other things that they can use the time that our speech takes up to do and they won’t get the benefits of public speaking. What this means for us is that we’ve got to grab our audience’s attention starting with the first words that tumble out of our mouth.

What we need to understand is that how we start our next speech makes all the difference in the world. In most cases, our audience does not know us and so they are going to be listening to what we have to say and trying to determine if they should spend any of their valuable time listening to the rest of our speech. This means that we can’t just make up our first words on the spot – these need to be crafted words that we’ve carefully thought out. We don’t want to make our audience angry or they won’t listen to us. We do have the ability to use pauses when we are delivering our first words to boost their impact.

Yes, your entire speech matters. However, you need your audience to come along with you to the good parts. If you don’t craft the right words with which to start your speech, then they’ll lose interest early on and won’t be along for the ride. Take the time to create meaningful first words and then watch as the rest of your speech is eagerly listened to by your audience.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: How long do you think that your powerful opening words should be?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Hmm, “the perfect speech”, so just exactly what would that be? First off, it would be a speech that we would feel confident in giving – we’d take the stage and because of the importance of public speaking we would confidently tell our speech without ever losing our way. Our audience would be hanging on our every word and at the end would stand up and clap for far too long because they were sad that we had to finish our speech. The perfect speech is a great concept, now just exactly how do we go about making this happen?

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