How to start a speech
We all want to get better at public speaking. It takes time, preparation and practice to get good at it. It’s not only good at talking, giving the same talk many times makes it easier every time (as a beginner trying improvise is not something to recommend).
I am sure you have heard all these starts many times, this is not something I have invented. Do I need to say that I have my self-been guilty of using the two first many times…
9 of 10 public speeches on a conference usually start with any of these three openings:
“Hi! My name is Jan, and this is a talk about object-oriented programming.”
Present your name and your topic straight up does not engage the audience (other than to their iPhones).
2. The classic stumble
“A-aah um…can you hear me? Is the mic working? How much time have I got? Ah..um….ah.”
Make sure that all technical issues are solved before you start. There is no need to do this on stage. In many cases, this start is followed by the cut-to-the-chase-name-and-topic and void common phrases like:
- “Thank you so much, it’s a pleasure to be here”
- “A funny thing happened to me while trying to find the venue…”
- “I was only asked 5 minutes/yesterday ago to do this speech”
Usually, good presentations have some elements of these three openings.
Start with a question that phrases a problem for the audience.
“How many times during your workday do you get interrupted by notifications?”
A shocking fact
Open with an interesting fact, but be careful and check it’s true:
“Sadly, in the next 18 minutes when I do our chat, four Americans that are alive will be dead from the food that they eat.” Jamie Oliver: Teach every child about food | TED Talk
Once upon a time
Steve Jobs may never open with the phrase “Once upon a time” for adults, but tell a story to grab the audience.
“Truth be told, I never graduated from college, and this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.” / Steve Jobs 2005 Commencement Address at Stanford University
“Imagine a big explosion as you climb through 3,000 ft. Imagine a plane full of smoke. Imagine an engine going clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack. It sounds scary. Well, I had a unique seat that day. I was sitting in 1D.” Ric Elias: 3 things I learned while my plane crashed | TED Talk
I am sure you will recognize these opening lines when you are aware of them. If you are unsure, I think that opening with a story (“Once upon a time”) is the best if you can pull it off.