How To Start A Speech

Imagine understanding how to start a speech in any situation. Would the anxiety and fear of public speaking almost disappear for you?

How would you feel if all your speech openings, from now on, achieved this:

  • Made you feel relaxed and confident.
  • Made the audience feel relaxed and confident about you.
  • Made both you and the audience eager to hear more.

It's every speaker's ideal situation isn't it.

In a moment I'll show you how to start a presentation so this happens, 100% of the time.

First though let's understand a bit more about speech openings by looking at how 11 of the best modern, cutting edge speeches, got started.

A Quick Look At 11 Great Speeches

I recently did a quick study of the top 10 speeches at What I learned about starting a speech was very, very useful. What follows isn't an academic critique - I'll leave those for the professors of Rhetoric.

The lessons below are for people like you and I, who need help to get the job done every day, without stressing out too much.

The 11th speech on our list is Steve Jobs' Stanford Commencement Speech in 2005. It's just a great speech on so many levels. It also starts well.

You can go watch them all on the web later. For now I just want you to focus on these 3 points:

  1. 9 of the 11 speeches start very, very well and all 9 start the same way. 1 starts ok. 1 starts quite poorly. Guess which one we'll learn the most from!
  2. The average time from the first word spoken to the audience's first laugh was 51 seconds. In the speech which started poorly it took 167 seconds, the longest of the speeches studied.
  3. The speech that started poorly was a good speech. The opening didn't ruin it. This is important as you'll see in a minute.

How To Start A Speech - Lesson 1: Start With A Story

Yep it's that simple. The 9 great starts were all stories.

Looking at the type of story used is really useful too. Some don't appear to be stories at first glance but they are.

Some might inspire you to use a similar story:

  1. A quick story about the event he's speaking at.

  2. The story of how she got started in her field, weaving in personal family details.

  3. Her personal story of involvement in a project, writing a book and people's reactions to the book.

  4. Story about a new academic position he took up and the amusing results of a test he gave his students.

  5. Story of 2 million years of human brain development. Good example of how even technical subjects are better when weaved into a story, instead of a dry presentation facts.

  6. Story about an interesting guy.

  7. Story about why he wrote the presentation.

  8. Story about himself and his work.

  9. Story about his own academic history. Then announced his talk would consist of 3 stories. oooh this guy's good!

That leaves the 2 other not-so-great-starts. How did they get going?

They both made the mistake of introducing "concepts" or "ideas" right up front. You can almost feel the scrunched foreheads in the audience as they struggle to get the point.

You don't want to start with scrunched foreheads! Remember you want relaxed and confident people. Ideally smiling and laughing with you.

Just go easy on them at the start. We're all wired to love a good story. So give us what we want.

Speaking of laughing...

How To Start A Speech - Lesson 2: Get Laughs Early. Real Early!

As we saw earlier, all the speakers got a laugh in the first 3 minutes. The average was 51 seconds.

What's interesting is, when you take out the two longest times, the average drops to 30 seconds.

Two thirds of the best speeches got a laugh inside 30 seconds!

They know what you know too. When we're laughing we're normally having a good time. We normally like the person who makes us laugh, at least for now.

It doesn't matter how you do it. Just get it done.

How To Start A Speech - Lesson 3: How To Recover If It Doesn't Start Well

Starting a speech well is important. But not that important.

Turns out you can relax a bit. Even if you ignore all the advice above and it just doesn't go off with a bang ... don't sweat it.

There's a sure fire technique to get things back on track.

The TED speech that started poorly, started really poorly in my humble opinion. There was no connection with the audience in the first few minutes, the speaker was dressed innapropriately (too casual), he had his hands behind his back and was looking over the top of his glasses (what sort of people does that remind you of?), and so on.

In short he did a lot wrong.

He got it back on track, as did the other speech that didn't start well, by doing the magic trick all great speakers do.

Tell stories

There it is again.

How To Start A Speech - Summary

  1. Start by telling stories. Always.
  2. Make them laugh inside the first 30 seconds. 60 seconds max.
  3. Keep telling stories. Whether you did 1 and 2 or not!

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