The opening of your speech needs to be an attention grabber. You want the audience to sit straight in anticipation of what’s coming. A “thank you mr. chairman, I’m delighted to be here, and on behalf of my organization I would like to thank blah blah blah” won’t do – by the time you start your speech the first snores will be audible.
Here are six ways to open a speech with a bang.
Immediately engages the audience. You could choose an open question, a closed question with a show of hands, or a rhetorical question. Do you want an answer? If you don’t, prepare your sentence if somebody does answer. If you don’t, prepare for an audience that doesn’t. Your question should be followed up by something related to the question. Most important: give the audience time to think after your question.
Not any statistic will do. It needs to be a startling statistic. If you can, translate the statistic into something imaginable. One in 4 people suffer from some sort of mental illness. One two three four. It’s you, sir.
Make the statistic come alive. If you can’t find a way to do that, don’t open with a statistic.
The trick is to utter one single word that triggers the imagination of the audience. After the word, you allow for a moment of silence. The word yanks them into your topic, and they will want to know more. Good starting words evoke emotions, are well known, but not overused. Compare Alcohol! Babies! Remorse! (the connection between these examples is completely incidental) with Tables! (no emotions) Arachnophobia! (not everybody will know what it is). Economy! (so what?)
Instead of talking, start doing something. I once started a speech by taking off my shoes and people are still talking about it. Your act needs to be highly visible – if the back of the room can’t see it (because it’s either too small or there are people in between) you won’t catch everybody’s attention. Not all acts are appropriate. Taking off your shoes for example is not done in some cultures.
As Einstein once said: “If you need an appropriate quote, you can always find one on the internet.” A quote can be a strong opening, but beware: check the authenticy of your quote. Famous people, like Einstein, have a lot of quotes attributed to them, including things they never actually said. Two more things to take into account: if you quote is too well known it looses its strength. If the source of the quote is not well known, you’ll have to explain who it is that said that and why this person is an authority. And that may take away the strength as well.
Nothing better than to draw them in than a story. It doesn’t have to be long, as long as it rouses some emotion (most stories do) and is connected to the point you want to make. Whether you choose a personal story, a business story or a fairy tale is up to you. Nothing grabs the attention like a story.
These are not the only ways to start a speech properly, but I think I’ve covered 95% of the regular cases. If you happen to have another favorite sort of opening, let us know!