Article Categories Business Presentation

A Presentation Tip - Six Ways To Open A Speech

By: Loraine Antrim

"How do I begin my presentation"? This is probably the most difficult question presenters ask themselves. Since people form their impressions in 7 to 10 seconds, how you begin not only creates the tone for your whole speech, it is your chance to create a memorable impression. 

Ultimately, an opening should capture interest, let the audience bond with the speaker, and set the agenda.  Setting the agenda is the easiest part of the opening, but what about the first few words out of your mouth?


1. Don't start with "Thank You"

Many presenters begin by thanking the person who introduces them or thanking the organization they are speaking to. Pretty boring. Talking for the first two or three minutes with this kind of chit-chat is not the best tactic to "wow" your audience. Yes, do thank the organization, but first, engage your listeners.  You can bring in your "thank yous" toward the end. I've even seen seasoned presenters weave their "thank you" after their introduction but before the main part of their speech.

2. Open with a Question

Engaging an audience is one of the most important strategies you can put in place.  And beginning with a question or a series of questions naturally allows you to interact right out of the gate. Asking the audience a question that allows for feedback is a great way to get them engaged. Try to illicit a show of hands: "How many of you have...?" or  "How many of you believe...?"  or "How many of you are familiar with..."? Now answer the question and lead into the next set of ideas.

Some speakers prefer to open with a rhetorical question that does not require audience participation.  I once heard a lawyer open his speech with a rhetorical question that got everyone's interest: "Do you think any lawyers get into heaven?" The key is to get attention and get the audience to relate to and bond with you.

3. Open with a Surprising Statement

Depending on the audience, another strategy is to begin with a startling statement. In business, this could be using an interesting or even outrageous number: "We can grow by 30% even in this economy." or "Three thousand customers...that's the number of existing clients we lost this year."  Unusual figures get the audience thinking right away.

4. Don't Open with Too Much Surprise

But be careful how startling you are.  Too much controversy can annoy or even anger an audience.  I once heard a speaker open with, "You helped kill and torture over 20 million animals last year. That's because your tax dollars paid for animal experiments in federally funded laboratories."  The speaker never regained the audience's trust. Be interesting, stimulating or unconventional, but be careful about being controversial.

5. Begin with a Twist or an Opposite Idea

A great way to really rivet attention is to show an audience the opposite of what they expect. What if you showed a picture of a fish with small legs walking, or a bear with webbed feet swimming or New York underwater? Follow the images with, "These could be pictures of  what our world will be like a thousand years from now if we do not stop global warming." Replace the familiar with the unfamiliar and audiences are immediately curious.

6. Open with Objects or a Prop

Some presenters have great success by showing the audience objects or using a prop. Holding up an egg, and saying, "This is what our company is like right now: very, very fragile..." or come out holding a helium balloon and let it float onto the ceiling: "There go our customer satisfaction ratings...can we retrieve them or just watch them float away'"?  Think of what your audience would relate to and plan a prop or object you can use to capture their interest.

There are many ways to begin your presentation, but ultimately, your opening should be genuine: something that you feel comfortable with and most importantly, it should be an opening that everyone in the audience can relate to. That is what will make for a memorable opening and a memorable speaker.

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