When you’re writing or giving a speech, getting the introduction right can make or break the rest of it.
You can have the most informational and entertaining speech in the world, but if you lose the audience in the first few moments, it’ll be hard to get them back. Heck, many of them may even remain tuned out and miss much of your message.
Figuring out the right introduction to your speech is something that I get asked about a lot. It’s one of those things that if you nail it just right, the rest of your speech because 1000X easier to finish.
So, in this article, I’m gonna walk you through how to start your speech, step-by-step. This way, you’ll be able to hook your audience right off the bat, and you’ll be able to build on your great introduction throughout the rest of your speech!
Understanding the Goal of the Speech
Every speech has a goal in mind. You might be a guest speaker at a high school motivating teens to stay off drugs, or you might be a real estate mogul trying to inform soon-to-be investors while eventually getting them to sign up for your courses.
Either way, you have an end goal for that speech, and you start building toward it from the second you start talking.
Before you start writing your speech, you should have a clear understanding of what it is you aim to accomplish. And every decision moving forward should be designed to build up to that one goal.
Keep the goal of your speech in mind at all times, and not only will your presentation will flow, but the audience will get more from it!
Identify the Audience
Every audience is different. If you’re in front of high school kids, they won’t connect with a dry, business-pitch-style monologue. If you’re giving a speech to accomplished professionals, they probably don’t want you to crack jokes the entire time you’re making your presentation.
To get your point across effectively,
You need to write your speech in a way that matches the expectations of your target audience.
To get your point across effectively, you need to write your speech in a way that matches the expectations of your target audience.
Luckily, you should have a pretty good idea of who you’re presenting to well before you give the speech. Tailoring your speech to that audience is common sense in most situations!
Write the Meat of the Speech
This is where I suggest getting ahead of yourself just slightly. If you’re having trouble writing the introduction or designing visual elements, I suggest skipping directly to writing the meat of it.
You should create a placeholder intro in your head or on paper that simply gives you something to build on and then craft most of your speech. When I’m actually writing the main content of the speech, instead of focusing on finding a hook (intro), what I do is get the bulk of the work out of the way, and you’ll know exactly what your introduction is supposed to build up to.
This method is often used by writers in all disciplines to get past that initial hurdle of kicking things off.
However, you will have to go back, remove your placeholder introduction, and start crafting a more meaningful one eventually!
Choosing the Introduction Method
The purpose of an introduction is to immediately hook the audience and draw their attention to you before you get into the meat of the content. There are a variety of tried and true methods that can help you make that happen, and each one has its own pros and cons.
Here are some of the most popular introduction methods.
1: Open with a Quote
If you’re going to have a fairly profound discussion, it is sometimes best to open with a powerful quote. Most people will get drawn in with this method, and you give a teaser of sorts to prepare them for the rest of your speech. It also lends you a sense of credibility and intellect that you miss out on when you open with a more lighthearted approach.
Every professional speaker and professional event emcee will tell you this can often make transitioning into the actual speech much easier. Especially if the quote you use is in line with the goal of your presentation.
My only advice is that you not “lay it on too thick”. One quote is good enough. With rare exception, you won’t want to start off your presentation with back-to-back-to-back quotes.
2: Tell a Personal Story
Many people decide to open with a personal story that explains how they got to the point where they are standing on a stage speaking to large groups of people. This method is used quite often because stories are extremely powerful.
For example, if you’re trying to give a motivational speech about failure to students, you might open the speech by telling a story about how you flunked out of school and ended up in jail before turning your life around (or something like that).
If you’re giving a speech about how life happens FOR you and not TO you, then you may want to tell the story of how your son broke his leg right before the big basketball game, but ended up meeting his future wife in the hospital.
Generally speaking, the more personal, specific, and relevant the story… the better!
Just make sure the story is appropriate.
If, for example, you’re a corporate event emcee, then pick a somewhat more professional approach to sharing personal stories that is in line with the event or conference you’re hosting.
The main thing I’ll tell you though is to not try to “force” the story. If it doesn’t fit the situation, no biggie. Just try the next opening.
3: Open with a Joke or Question
Finally, opening with a joke or question is a great way to break the ice. And if the joke or question is relevant to the speech, it gives you an instant opening to start expounding on the topic. Just remember that jokes have to be used carefully depending on your audience and how much rapport you have with them.
There’s a fine line between being fun and coming off as amateurish or immature.
Questions also demand a bit of forethought.
You don’t want to ask a question just for the sake of asking a question. Whatever the question is, you need to be able to leverage it into providing a meaningful answer that immediately transitions into the purpose of your speech.
However, both jokes and questions are engaging methods that pull the audience in without requiring a lot of bridging.
Implement and Practice
Whichever opening speech method you choose, you need to implement and practice it several times. If it feels off, tweak the idea.
If you’re not sure how to start your speech and nothing seems to be “hitting the bullseye”, try practicing with a friend or partner. This allows you to gauge their reactions and understand how the speech will perform when it’s show time.
The three opening methods I listed earlier, are some of the most common and powerful ways to start your speech effectively. But here are several more that you can use that are just as good.
If you’d like to become a master at opening your speech (and other aspects of speaking and presenting)…
A speech is rarely perfect the first time around. But if you continue to practice and tweak your ideas leading up to the presentation, you’ll iron out the issues and the audience will enjoy what you have to share.
Before You Go
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