“This is a day I’ve been looking forward to for two-and-a-half years,” began the speech that introduced the product that revolutionized not only the telecommunications industry but the world we live in today. So, who said it, and what was he introducing? Read on to find out how to start a speech that holds your audience’s attention.
Even for the most accomplished public speaker, giving a speech can be a nerve-wracking event. In order to be successful, you must hold the audience in rapt attention from the moment you utter your first word until the final syllable of the last word. In the digital age, where everyone has the world in their fingertips and a million distractions via their smartphones and social media, keeping an audience’s attention is even more difficult.
With only a few seconds to grab their interest, it all comes down to how to start a speech that will determine whether you capture the audience or you lose their interest before you even really begin.
How to Start a Speech
Giving a successful speech begins long before you get in front of the audience. It starts by learning and knowing your audience before you begin to write your speech. How you address a crowd of financial planners will differ from a group of people embarking on their own tech startup. Find out what they want to hear, not necessarily what you want to say to them.
Once you’ve identified who your audience is and what they want to hear, focus on learning about the organization and the event you’ll be speaking at, to determine what may be the most successful way to learn how to start a speech you have been asked to give.
Start by refraining from traditional greetings that will make your audience tune out before you begin. The standard, “Hi, how’s everyone doing today?” is not only disingenuous but can confuse your audience and worse: get multiple people speaking when they’re supposed to be listening to you.
Once you understand who your audience is, what the organization and the event are, and how to refrain from the beginning, we review the seven best ways on how to start a speech:
A powerful quote from a notable person or industry leader can inspire your audience and keep your audience enthralled long enough to find out what your speech is about and how it will relate to them. Some examples of amazing quotes that are best for how to start a speech include:
“Fall seven times, stand up eight.” - Japanese Proverb
“The common question that gets asked in business is ‘why’? That’s a good question, but an equally valid question is ‘why not’? - Jeff Bezos
“If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.” - Bruce Lee
"What If" Statement
What if you're giving a successful speech on how to start a speech? How would that go? As a reader, you’re already imagining the best ways to begin a speech, right? Think of your audience and think of your speech. For that crowd of financial planners, consider, “What if the stock market suffered a crashed tomorrow. Would your clients be prepared to weather the storm or would they lose everything?”
And for the crowd of individuals creating tech startups, consider “What if your App becomes the number one trending app in the App and Android stores tomorrow? What problems would you need to address before that reality to ensure continued customer loyalty?” Get your audience thinking of the best outcome for the topic your speech is prepared to address and the worst outcome. This way, you continue to hold their attention while you’re solving the problems that either they want to know the answers to or they haven’t even considered yet.
A similar version of how to start a speech begins with an imagined scenario. This version plays on storytelling, which is how people like to engage and learn best. For example, imagine how terrified you would be if you were in front of an audience, giving a speech you haven’t rehearsed, stumbling over your words, and shouting at your audience, instead of using a microphone because you didn’t request one and expected it to be provided for you.
Immediately, your audience will think of themselves in the story and engage with you on how to solve the problem.
One of the best ways to engage an audience and how to start a speech is to ask a question. This can be rhetorical, or you can use it in a way to engage the audience by calling on people in the audience to answer or ask them for a “show of hands” to find out more about your audience on the spot. This method can be useful to show the audience that not only are you there to speak, but you’re also prepared to listen and engage with them.
It is important that you begin with questions that truly engage the audience and refrain from asking “how is everybody today?”
Examples of great questions are:
Setting goals are easy, but achieving them isn’t. How are you sabotaging yourself?
What three things do you hope to learn today?
Who is the best public speaker you’ve ever seen in person and what did they do to hold your attention?
Using a statistic can capture an audience by wowing them with numbers that may be unbelievable. Using statistics can be difficult and boring so be careful that you don’t use too many and keep them on the topic. Some excellent examples on how to start a speech with a surprising statistic are:
Fear of public speaking cuts wages by 10%.
On average, people have 5.54 social media accounts.
The average business would lose 17% of its profits if it eliminated business travel.
Easily one of the best ways to start a speech is with a powerful statement. A statement can give the audience a goal or something to focus on, the overall theme of your speech.
Examples of powerful statements to begin a speech include:
Boom! That’s the sound of our sales numbers going through the roof!
10 years ago, I would never guess the impact of social media on our everyday lives.
Relate to the audience with a personal story or an anecdote that will bridge the gap and make your topic not only relatable but make you relatable to the audience.
Because anecdotes are best when they’re personal stories, examples are more difficult to come by. However, some terrific examples of starters, to get the ideas flowing are:
What would you have done if you were in my shoes? Here’s what happened…
I have a confession to make…
Something you’d never guess about me…
Using these seven suggestions for terrific speech starters whether on their own or as a combination will help you engage with your audience throughout your entire speech.
Knowing how to start a speech is helpful in ensuring a successful speaking event, but there are a number of tips that will help further your chances of success.
To begin, it’s important to note that people engage with and learn through stories and emotions. Statistics and facts back up data, but can quickly put an audience to sleep.
Likewise, don’t speak in a monotone. Even though you practice your speech several times, it should not sound like it’s rehearsed, but like you’re carrying on a conversation.
Don’t use difficult words. Language can set the tone just as much as your voice can. Use fun and interesting word choices to keep your speech fun and interesting.
Make sure your electronics are working and that you have a microphone, and where possible that you have a backup plan. For example, carry your speech on a thumbnail drive or have it accessible in a cloud drive. Extra batteries for a wireless microphone or an extra microphone will keep you from panicking if something goes wrong during the setup for your speech.
The most important thing is to remember to relax and don’t forget to breathe.
What to Watch Out For
When giving your speech, watch your audience, and do what you can to engage with them. You will easily be able to figure out who is listening and who is tuning out by how many people keep eye contact with you and how many people are fidgeting. If your audience is pulling out their smartphone devices and you haven’t asked them to send out a tweet or a Facebook comment to encourage their colleagues to attend your next session, then you can conclude that you have lost your audience.
Don’t panic. The beauty of the methods that help you create a great opening of a speech is that many of the ideas can get your speech back on track. Rehearse a few questions to ask your audience after each section, or personal anecdotes to pull them back into you and away from their smartphones. If all else fails, you can always ask the audience to stand up, stretch, take a break, and fall back on how to start your speech all over again.
So, who said, “this is a day I’ve been looking forward to for two-and-a-half years”? Steve Jobs did in 2007, at Apple’s keynote event as he was introducing Apple’s iPhone. He then gave a brief overview of the history of Apple that encompassed the company’s biggest achievements, making sure the audience watching knew how momentous the introduction to the “next big thing” would be, and he delivered.
In the end, that’s all that matters. Is your speech the next big thing? It is to your audience. Make sure your opening announces that in the best way possible and that you deliver.