Never start a speech by saying thank you, telling a joke, or with a canned opening like “Ladies and Gentlemen.” Now that you know what not to do, stick around to find out killer techniques to start with a bang.
I’ve been studying public speaking for almost a decade now, giving speeches to a variety of audience and on an at least monthly basis. During that time I’ve also heard a lot of speakers, newbie to experienced. From that I can tell you most people screw up the beginning of their speech.
Today I want to share with you some powerful ways to start your speech.
But first let me share some of my pain. You see when I watch people give speeches today I so often cringe.
There is a fallacy in the world of public speaking. It is the idea that if you are comfortable in front of a group and aren’t nervous, then you are a good public speaker.
It isn’t true. Yes fear of public speaking is almost always at the top of people’s fear list, and many people are petrified to be in front of an audience.
When one of those people get up there, you know it is going to be painful.
But just because you are comfortable and relatively relaxed doesn’t mean you are going to deliver a speech that impacts people and makes them want to take action.
The first place you see this lack of skill is at the very beginning. Most people who are comfortable but unpracticed start their speech it tropes they learned…well I don’t know where people learn this stuff. These are the urban legends of public speaking.
The idea you should start with a joke. Or that the first thing you want to do is thank the people who invited you to speak.
Unless you are a stand-up comedian there is no reason to start with a joke. It is a waste of time.
If you start out by saying thank you, no one is going to believe you really mean it. Everyone says that at the beginning. At the end of the video I’ll also give you a tip for how to thank you audience in a way they will believe.
There is only one time in a speech you can guarantee people are going to be paying attention to you.
The very beginning.
If you don’t grab them or get to the point quickly, they are gone. They are thinking about lunch or their phone is out. So don’t waste these precious moments.
Want to know how to amplify this moment of focused attention? Start with the power pause.
The power pause is you standing on stage, looking at the audience for a few seconds and doing nothing. Look out and wait for people to focus on you. I know this will be painful, but the longer you go the more attention you will get.
You may be thinking I’m full of it. But I learned this from James Hume one of Ronald Regan’s speech writers.
Also, if you put yourself in that audience, you know it’s true as well.
Imagine you are in an audience. A speaker gets introduced and you are distracted.
You’re looking at your phone, or thinking about something else. And nothing happens. After a few seconds, you are going to look up to find out what is going on. The speaker is just standing there looking at the audience.
You start wondering, “What’s this guy doing? What is going on?”
That is what you want from your audience.
That is what the Power Pause gets you. Attention.
Then you move into the Power Open.
The first words out of your mouth should be something that grabs your audience. It can be a story that hooks their emotions. It can be a Quote or an intriguing question.
Something that shows you know what you are doing, your subject is important and that they want to listen.
Don’t waste this moment with fluff. People tune out if you start telling a joke. They tune out when you begin the formal platitudes of speech starting.
Or when you start thanking them because that too is just a formality.
Start with the biggest punch you can give the audience.
Recently I heard a speech by Travis White and he did something I hadn’t seen before but is a powerful open. The first thing he said at the beginning of a speech about Building a Personal Brand was, “Here are three resources you can use today to build your brand.”
Then he gave three online tools with a short explanation of how they could be used.
From the first word of his speech people were frantically taking notes. Everyone immediately credited him with knowing what he was talking about. They also knew he was going to give practical, actionable advice.
What three tools could you share to open your speech?
In the simplest words possible, here is how you open a speech. You pause for a moment in silence and watch for people to give you their attention. Then you give them the most powerful, impactful information you can give them to open the speech. One way to do this is to give them three tools they can immediately use to accomplish the topic of your speech.
Question of the Day: How do you open your speeches?