Getting started is one of the hardest parts of giving a speech. All eyes are focused on the speaker who steps to the podium, note cards in hand, searching for a way to grab the attention of everyone in the room.
If making a speech is in your future,
experiment with techniques like those that follow to find the best way of hooking your audience from the outset of your presentation.
- Speak forcefully. Use a clear, strong tone without sounding artificial or overbearing. Practice modulating your voice and balance verbal rhythms to get a feel for the sentences you plan to share with the audience. A speaker must adopt some of the characteristics of an actor. Your goal, like that of an entertainer, is to grab and keep your listener’s attention.
- Move appropriately. For a formal audience, less is more. Stay at the podium, using only occasional hand gestures or facial expressions to underscore a point that you are making. With informal audiences, you may be able to move about the stage or come around the podium to face the audience directly.
- Begin with a sharp, clear statement. One or two sentences, or even a rhetorical question, offers listeners a specific focus. Don’t overwhelm them with a word bath. Start strong by limiting your opening comments to the main idea that will be the backbone of the overall talk.
- Start with a quote. Cite famous or inspirational words by a well-known historical figure or celebrity. Popular song or poem lyrics intrigue audiences who have never heard them used in conjunction with a topic like the one you will speak on. Keep it short but powerful. Pause afterward for a few seconds to let the effect set in.
- Offer a proverb. Folk sayings, old wives’ tales, or words of wisdom that people can relate to provide a meaningful bridge to your speech. Try adding a new twist by converting statements into questions or vice versa, or tweaking a word or two:
Does a stitch in time save nine?
Why can’t you teach an old dog new tricks? Maybe it’s the trainer’s fault.
- Ask a question. Give the audience a moment to discuss possible answers with those around them, then ask for volunteers to share a response. This is a great ice breaker and helps to promote communication between speakers and participants.
- Issue a challenge. Riddles, puzzles, case studies, and other problem-solving activities grab hold of listeners’ minds and stir their competitive spirits. Allow them a few minutes to brainstorm solutions or promise to deliver suggested options by the end of your presentation.
- Create a word picture. Using sensory imagery, describe a heart-tugging or mind-teasing scenario that immediately engages the audience. Bringing real or imaginary characters to life in a verbal sketch that takes just a minute or so can have a powerful effect on drawing in your listeners.
A creative speaker can find a variety of ways to open a presentation. Don’t begin with the same old “Thanks for inviting me to be here today.” Instead, go for an innovative approach to buttonholing your audience before they get away from you.