How To Start A Speech (With Practical Tips And Examples)
Updated 30 September 2022
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The first few seconds of a speech usually determine if the speaker can hold the audience's attention and keep them engaged. Starting a speech in creative and innovative ways can help the speaker connect with the audience and sustain their interest. When giving a speech, knowing how to start it in an impressive manner can help you make a desirable impact on your audience. In this article, we discuss how to start a speech and share some practical tips to make your speech engaging.
How to start a speech effectively
To find out how to start a speech in an impactful manner, follow these steps:
1. Quote a leader
One of the most effective ways to start a speech is using a relatable quotation from a famous leader. This can get the audience's attention instantly and give direction to the rest of the speech. Ensure that the quote is somehow relevant to your speech topic or the person you are quoting is directly relevant to what you are discussing. For example, if you are giving a speech on a political topic, you can start with a quote from a famous political leader that summarises the central message of your speech.
2. Start with a joke
Humour is another very effective strategy to engage an audience. Starting your speech with a joke can break the formality or seriousness of a topic and help you connect with the audience better. If you start with a joke, your audience is likely to be more attentive when you introduce yourself or your speech topic. Laughter can also help boost your confidence and reduce anxiety before beginning your speech. Remember to keep the joke appropriate for a professional setting and connect it to your speech.
3. Introduce yourself
You can begin your speech by simply introducing yourself and summarising your values or goals in a powerful statement. This can be particularly helpful when making a business proposal or pitch to clients. For instance, you can begin by describing your team and stating that you are going to change how your audience promotes their products. To make the statement bold and impressive, make sure it is actionable, thought-provoking and communicates the key message of your speech.
Related: Types Of Public Speaking Skills And How To Improve Them
4. Ask a question
Asking a simple question right at the beginning of your speech can help create an instantaneous connection with your audience. You can use two types of questions at the beginning of your speech. You can ask a literal question and ask the audience to answer it by raising their hands. Alternatively, you can ask a ‘what if' question and get the audience to think about a topic that is essential for your speech. Both these approaches can improve audience engagement and help retain their interest.
5. Mention an important statistic
Starting your speech with a statistic can shock, surprise or mystify your audience. When choosing the most appropriate statistic, find the central theme of your speech and research a relatable or surprising study related to the same. For example, if you are giving a speech about how digital marketing is changing business practices, you can find out how the share of online marketing has been increasing over the years. Make sure you attribute the statistic and use reputable sources of information.
6. Explain a problem
If you pose a problem to your audience, you can invite them to find solutions with you and encourage them to think in certain directions as your speech progresses. For example, if your speech is about climate change, you can begin by explaining the challenges that particular nations or communities are likely to face. Then, you can discuss the content of your speech and propose positive changes in a problem-and-solution format. This approach also provides a sense of closure to the speech, as you can discuss the problem again when you conclude your speech and provide realistic solutions.
7. Share an anecdote
Sharing an anecdote about your success, a failure, a client testimonial or any other relevant topic can help set the theme and tone of the speech. If you are speaking at a conference or business networking event, you can also share an anecdote from within your interactions at the event to increase the relatability. For instance, say your speech focuses on the benefits of using certain automation tools to improve business efficiency. In this case, you can begin by discussing the experience and improvement that a client witnessed by using the tool and what your audience can learn from the same.
Related: How To Write A Memorable Retirement Speech: A Complete Guide
8. Tell your personal story
When you start your speech by explaining your personal story, motivation or background and how it relates to your work or mission, you invite the audience to know you better and use storytelling to connect with them. Use a powerful personal story to provoke an emotional response from your audience and engage them. For example, if you are making a speech at the graduation ceremony of college students, you can begin by sharing your struggles and challenges while studying. Make sure your story is sincere and relevant to the speech for maximum impact.
9. Provide a demonstration
If your speech focuses on the benefits of specific products or services, you can start by giving a demonstration. This is particularly helpful if you are giving a technical, scientific or research-based presentation. Besides getting the audience's attention, this approach can help the listener believe in the claims you are making. If possible, involve members of the audience in the demonstration as well. You can also use videos, photographs and graphics to demonstrate the functions or benefits of the product or service.
10. Use an impressive visual
If your speech includes a visual presentation, you can begin by showing your audience a striking image or graphic that is relevant to the topic of your speech. The human brain often tends to retain visual details better than verbal information, and you can use this to your advantage. By starting your speech with a relevant visual, you can evoke interest and engagement from your audience and sustain it for a longer duration. You can also supplement your speech with relevant images and visuals playing in the background if your topic allows.
11. Invite the audience to think
Start by asking your audience to imagine a situation, often unrealistic, sensational or absurd. This can help the audience become active participants by thinking and imagining the answer rather than passively listening. The more thought-provoking the question, the better the impact may be. For example, if you are discussing the impact of technology on human health, you can begin by asking your audience to imagine a day without any electronic devices. You can then request an audience member to recount their morning routine and highlight the ways in which they use a device right after they wake up.
Related: Five Steps To Prepare A Farewell Speech (With Tips And Examples)
12. Stay silent
One unconventional method to start your speech in an impactful manner is to do nothing and stay silent. When you go to the stage or stand in front of the mic, consider not saying anything for 10 to 15 seconds. This will create an unexpected pause and lead to silence in the room, as most audience members would expect you to start speaking immediately. This silence can bring the audience's attention to you and offer them a chance to focus on what you are about to talk about without any distractions.
Tips for making an impactful speech
Here are some practical tips that can help you make an impactful speech:
Maintain a consistent flow and structure
Having a structure to your speech that gives it a smooth flow and direction can help engage the audience better. Like any story, have a beginning, a middle and an end in your speech. If you raise certain questions at the beginning, make sure you resolve them towards the end. An effective speech helps the audience learn something new and encourages them to think differently.
Use different elements
If you can, use different visual, verbal and storytelling elements in your speech. This can be particularly helpful when giving a presentation or making a pitch. Using graphics, statistics, images, videos and text can provide better structure to your speech and cover all essential talking points. The use of different media elements also makes the speech interesting and sustain interest from the audience.
Ensure clarity of message
Have an impactful message that conveys the topic of your speech clearly. Ensure that every sentence in your speech points to a central theme and helps you build the narrative. You can also begin your speech with this key point and establish it as your speech progresses. If possible, present your speech to a close friend or trusted colleague before and seek feedback on how to improve the clarity of the message.
End with a call-to-action
Finish your speech with a strong call-to-action that prompts the audience to act, even if it is to think. Alternatively, you can encourage them to join an event, support a cause, elicit feedback or seek answers to questions. How you end your speech can determine how many listeners retain the information you share with them.
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