The Correct Way To Start A Speech When You Are Battling Nerves

How you start a speech can determine how effective it turns out to be
How you start a speech can determine how effective it turns out to be
Image Credit: Anne

I got a great note from one of the subscribers to The Accidental Communicator newsletter the other day. He was asking how he could improve his speaking ability. He felt that he understood the importance of public speaking and once he got warmed up, he was a pretty good speaker. However, when he was starting a speech he spend a lot of time battling his nerves and he felt that his speech openings were not as strong as they could be. I realized that a lot of us probably have the same issue and perhaps we should have a talk about how best to deal with this situation.

Why The Start Of A Speech Matters So Much

We would not even be having this discussion if the start of a speech was not such an important part of the overall presentation. During a speech there is one special moment when you will be commanding the attention of everyone in the room: this is the moment just before you start to speak. I can’t stress just how very important this point-in-time is. The first few words that come tumbling out of your mouth will determine if your audience decides to pay attention to what you have to say – or not!

Since the start of a speech is so important, as speakers we go to great lengths to find ways to make the most of this part of the speech. One of the things that I’m always telling my speaking students to do is to write out the first paragraph of what they are going to want to say in their speech. Although I am generally against memorizing your speech, I make an exception in this case because the way that your first words fit together is actually very important and you need to get it right.

Another thing that we do to improve how our speeches start is to work with the person who is running the event that we are speaking at and have them do a good job of introducing us. If we can get them to do it correctly then we won’t be starting our speech cold. Instead, the audience will have been warmed up and will now know what to expect from us and our speech. This does not always happen the way that we want it to, but if we can make it happen then all of sudden starting our speech just got a little bit easier.

Ways To Improve The Start Of Your Speech

So now we get back to my subscriber’s question: how can he do a better job with the opening of his speech even though he feels more nervous at the beginning of a speech than he does at the end of a speech. My advice to him was very similar to what I tell most beginning speakers. Write out the first paragraph of what you want to say. Look, no matter how many speeches you give, you are always going to be tense when you are starting a speech. What this means is that you need to eliminate the need to think about what you want to say next. Don’t memorize the entire speech because that will make you sound stilted and awkward. Do memorize your first paragraph so that you can control what your first words will be.

Another technique that I suggest to speakers who are dealing with a serious case of the “start up nerves” is to use the power of the pause. What this means is that nobody ever said that you had to take the stage and just start talking. Instead, you can capture that special moment where you have everyone’s attention and make it last even longer. Your audience is expecting you to start to speak and so if you don’t, then you’ll have made them curious and you will have held on to their attention. Using a pause at the start of your speech consists of having you take the stage, position your body to start to talk, looking out directly at your audience, and then not saying anything. You can hold this pause for as long as you want, but I generally recommend for it to last between 5-10 seconds. If you are struggling with nerves, this simple act of pausing before you begin to speak can boost your self confidence and calm you down.

Finally, I often suggest that nervous speakers bring a drum machine along with them when they are going to be giving a speech. No, I don’t mean to bring a real drum machine – that would be quite distracting. However, I am going to suggest that you bring along a drum machine that lives in your head. The reason that this is so important is that we all have a tenancy to hurry through our words at the start of a speech. If you have a drum machine in your head tapping out a steady beat, then you can match your rate of talking to the rate of drumming and this will help to slow you down and help you to sound more natural.

What All Of This Means For You

The way that we start a speech can have a very big impact on how effective our speech is. If we get this wrong, then we’ll lose the attention of our audience, they won’t get the benefits of public speaking, and we’ll just end up talking to ourselves. Since we can’t make our nerves go away, what we need to do is to come up with ways to deal with them effectively.

One of the first things that we can do is to memorize the first paragraph of our speech. This allows us to start our speech on “autopilot” and we don’t have to go hunting for the next word that we want to say. Don’t memorize the whole speech, just the first paragraph. Next, we can use the power of the pause to hold on to our audience’s attention and gain some time for ourselves. Prepare to start your speech and then just go into a hold pattern. You’ll hook your audience and you’ll feel a sense of power from doing this. Finally, in order to prevent you from racing through your first words, you need to think about a drum machine as you speak and match your delivery to the drum beat pattern.

Sadly we will never be able to make our nerves go away before we start to give a speech. However, with a just a bit of thought we can create ways to deal with our nerves and harness them to make our speech even better. Don’t fight your nerves, instead learn to control them and then the way that you start a speech will be just as powerful as the way that you end it.

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

Question For You: If someone does a poor job of introducint you and your speech, what can you do to save the day?

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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

If we can all agree that this giving of speeches stuff takes a lot of effort on our parts in order to share the importance of public speaking with our audience, then perhaps we should all try to agree on just exactly what our goal should be when we give a speech? In my opinion, an effective speech is one in which you are able to capture your audience’s attention and then hold on to it for the entire speech. I realize that this may sound like a good thing to do, but the real question that we are all facing now is just exactly how do you go about doing this?

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