6 WAYS TO OPEN A TALK → AKA HOW TO START AN INFORMATIVE SPEECH

speech writing Dec 09, 2019

You’re trying to write a speech but...are feeling stuck. You want to know how to start an informative speech that educates AND inspires the audience. 

This “what do I say?!” anxiety is completely normal. 

Writing a helpful, business-growing talk feels hard, and the biggest challenge is usually knowing what to say first. 

This makes total sense. You know the first impression counts and want it to be perfect.

In fact, according to Business Insider, we have 7 seconds to create a first impression. 

The good news is this information doesn’t need to make you more nervous. With the best speech writing techniques, you’ll know exactly what to say in order to feel confident you WILL create that great first impression.

The wrong vs. right way → How to do a speech outline - from the start

Most presentations start with "Hello! my name is xyz and I'm talking about ...". This has its place but isn’t usually the best way to kick off a talk you want to ultimately get new clients or students from. 

If I have five minutes to inform a small group about something, then it may make sense to go straight to the core message. 

Otherwise?

Getting in front of a small group or onto a stage for a presentation that’s longer than 10 minutes, it’s important to have an entry that leads our audience into a subject well. An opening should give your listeners a “settle in, get notebook ready!” excitement. 

 Source - https://www.businessinsider.com/only-7-seconds-to-make-first-impression-2013-4

You want to make sure the way you start a speech: 

  • Clearly shows what you’re going to talk about 
  • Gives you security and far more confidence in your public speaking

That’s why I’m sharing 6 very specific ways to do JUST that. 

The 6 ways to open a speech, proven to work

You want to engage your audience immediately and create an active listening state. Here are my favorite ways for showing clients and students how to ignite attention from the start.

1. Interactive “Let me ask” questions 

Let’s say your a voice coach (like myself!) and you ask: 

"How many of you like speaking on stage? Not want to but LIKE to?" 

"How many of you do not mind being at the microphone?" 

"How many of you do everything to avoid talking to groups?" 

By asking the audience to respond with hand raises, the questions serve two purposes:

  1. By lifting the arm, the speaker shows she REALLY does want an answer and so must care about the audience. 
  2. Asking questions that will ensure EVERYONE raised hands to one, people feel included and understood already. 

2. Rhetorical questions 

Giving your audience a moment to pause and think is powerful. For example: 

"Stage fright - Many of us have it. We feel terrified at the idea of public speaking. Why is it that we become nervous at the thought of stepping in front of the group? "

3. Anecdotes 

Is there an anecdote that can be applied to your topic? 

Here is an example of Benjamin Zander's brilliant TED talk "The Transformative Power of Classical Music". 

In this TED Talk, Benjamin is conveying why he’s so drawn to classical music and shares: 

"Some of you know the story of the two merchants who went to Africa to sell shoes. One writes home: "No chance - there are no shoes here. The other one writes: "Great opportunity, there are still no shoes!" It's similar in classical music ... "   

When you tell a story, a metaphor is created that the listener can now easily apply into what you’re going to speak about. 

4. Interesting numbers, data or facts  

Take something out of the ordinary and use it as your speech opener. 

"Every day, 42 million presentations are held worldwide. In other words, 20,000 presentations start each minute. Most of them are boring and long-winded .... " 

Here, the large number was reduced again to make the information more tangible. Data and statistics also help to make vague concepts feel REAL to the audience. 

5. The news

Is there anything going on in that season, year or time period that can be picked up? 

"Maybe the last month you’ve read about how…”

“It’s the year ___, so we all know that…” 

This gives your listener context AND has them feeling good like they are “in the know”.

6. Problems + a hypnotic filter

Here, it is advisable to create problems and then work with a hypnotic filter. 

This may sound a bit treacherous but is highly effective, I promise.

"Imagine sitting down at your laptop tomorrow and discovering that Gmail, Facebook AND your video conferencing software are NOT working. What would you do?" 

You created a problem and posed a question that makes them think, creating interaction and engagement from the start. 

Quotes work well, too. 

"John Lennon once said: Life is what happens while you're making other plans. In my case...I was trying to launch my second business when I got the news of my VA of 5 years leaving to take a year long sabbatical. So, what was the next step?” 

You can also show a problem that was created in your own life or business - and deliver storytelling methods from there. 

How to decide WHICH opener you use

While these are my top 6 favorite ways for how to start a speech there are others, such as  personal stories, metaphors or well-placed "provocations" ("I have to confess something to you", "We made a big mistake"). 

If you’re already struggling, however, stick with one of the 6 above so you have less overwhelm in choosing. 

To decide on your speech’s entry, approach the topic from a bird's eye view.   

What is the big picture about? Overcoming hurdles? Finding inspiration? Asking for help?

See the root meaning of what you want them to take away and see which opener helps accordingly. For example: 

 

  • If you are giving hard-hitting strategy to a group of overwhelmed creatives, specific stats and data may give them the direct, non-head-in-the-clouds approach they need

  • If you want to inspire the audience to reach a goal that they are well aware of having, asking questions about “Do you want to…?” is very effective

  • If your audience has been to many conferences or talks and is looking for new, relevant information, opening with a news item will make them feel at ease immediately

The next, easy way to get confidence in public speaking

To get more specific strategies that’ll take you from nervous on what to say to feeling so great about your opener that you feel more confident walking to the mic, get the Stage Ready Workbook: 10 dynamic steps to become a “Wow, she’s so good!” speaker

 

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