When it comes to public speaking, our audience will mostly remember the first thing and the last thing we say.
The rule of “primary and recency” tells us so. “That’s awesome, but what about all the stuff I say in the middle?” you may ask. Well, we’ll save that for another blog post.
For now, we’re going to explore what it takes to start strong and finish strong. Any type of speech deserves a great start, but here, I’m going to focus on recommendations most applicable to persuasive presentations.
Start Your Speech Like a Pro
Allocate enough time
When I prepare a speech, I typically dedicate between 10%-15% of my time for the introduction (for a 30 minute speech, I plan to spend between 3 to 4 minutes on the introduction). This might seem like a lot of time that could be spent getting straight to your main points, but I’ve found that great openings have tremendous value in establishing context for your content and preparing the audience to receive it. A well-crafted introduction can “hook” the audience and make the rest of your job easier.
Connect before rushing to content
Some social scientists claim that you have less than ten seconds to make a first impression. In that brief moment when you first start your speech, it’s helpful to spend a few seconds to connect with your audience. It could be as simple as a friendly smile and greeting, or perhaps expressing your gratitude for their time. Make it sincere. Make it memorable. Make it short. (Read more on this here: Connection Before Content)
Three goals for a strong start: Attention. Commitment. Direction.
Now it’s time to introduce your topic. You have three goals with your opening. First, capture the audience’s attention. Yes, your audience is there to listen to you, but it’s safe to assume you’re competing for their full attention. With mobile phones, pressing issues, and perhaps other speakers’ messages vying for mind share, it’s your job capture the audience’s attention and get their minds focused on you for the next few minutes. I share some tips for opening ideas below.
So you’ve captured their attention, now gain their commitment. If you’re presenting a persuasive speech (i.e. you’re trying to convince people to think or do something), your introduction has to have the key ingredient, WIFFY (what’s in it for you). Why should the audience care about this topic? Why is this important to them? A great introduction makes your topic so interesting and significant that your audience is compelled to listen.
Finally, give people some direction, a quick idea of where you’re headed and what to expect for the rest of the presentation. This could be as simple as “So, in the next few minutes, I’m going to explain why deforestation is so harmful for us and what we can do about it.”
Use these opening tips to spark ideas on how to start your speech with something unique and compelling.
- Make a promise.
- Tell a story.
- Tell a joke.
- Pose a rhetorical question.
- Share a unique prop or visual.
- Involve the group in an exercise.
- Share a surprising fact.
- Ask a “show of hands” question.