How to start a speech and win over your audience from the get-go

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Written by: Natalia De la Peña Frade
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How do you want to begin your speech? By winning people over from the word go, right? I thought so! I’m the same with my posts; I always try to capture your attention in the opening lines (I think it’s working…😉).

I’ve put together some good advice, taking into account some best practices from the most famous speeches and presentations of all time. I’ll also share some tips on how not to start a speech, which will help you avoid common mistakes. These tips and best practices added to your talent will make for a memorable speech that’ll wow your audience. Let’s get into it!

How NOT to start a speech

One thing’s for certain: if you go for the typical ways to start a speech that everyone uses, it’ll be difficult to get the attention you deserve.

There’s no need for greetings, apologies, or thanks, at least at the beginning. It’s very common, and also very unnecessary.

When you start your presentation, the audience will give you the benefit of the doubt for a brief moment. You have just a few seconds to get their attention and keep them engaged… or to lose them forever.

These initial seconds are a valuable asset, and you must invest wisely. Some say that this vital moment lasts about a minute, but I’m sure nobody waits that long. It’s more likely that your audience will take less than a minute to decide if they’re going to give you their full attention or if they’ll simply disconnect.

It’s a big mistake to underestimate the key moments of your speech using formulas that don’t provide value to the audience. These people in front of you haven’t come to hear hello or thank you. They’ve come because they think they’re going to get something from your presentation, be it fun, knowledge, inspiration, etc. Don’t leave room for them to think they’ve made a mistake in coming to see you. It’s a much better idea to let them know from the start that you’re going to meet their expectations, or maybe even exceed them, don’t you think?

At the end of your speech you can thank them briefly for their attention. By then you’ll have achieved the objectives of your presentation and your gratitude will be much better received.

Now that you know how not to start, let’s look at how to start your speech in the best possible way. Take note and pay heed.

5 top tips for starting a memorable speech

1. Surprise from the start

If you start in a way your audience doesn’t expect, you’ll get much more attention; that’s one of the reasons to avoid starting your speech with greetings and thanks.

The first thing you say doesn’t have to be the first thing you prepare. Naturally, your speech is about a topic you’re very knowledgeable about, so it’s possible that you know well what you want to say, or have a pretty good idea. It makes sense to try to find an original opener and spend the time necessary to ensure you’ve found a great idea.

There are thousands of ways to do it. Here are some options.

  • A rhetorical question which makes your audience reflect for a moment. For example, questions such as ‘What if…?’, ‘Could you imagine…?’ or ‘How would you react if…?’.
  • A joke to create a relaxed environment, but only if you think humor fits well with the topic and tone of your speech, and with your personality. 
  • A surprising statistic. Do you have data on your topic? Choose the most striking fact and use it as a starting point if you think it’ll pack a punch. The effect will be even more powerful if the data refers to or includes the people in your audience. 
  • A problem. Come up with an intriguing line in which you summarize the problem you’ll solve in your speech. That way you’ll take your audience right to the crux of the matter and they’ll want to know more.  
  • A story. Never underestimate the power of storytelling. If there’s a way you can link your speech with a personal anecdote, it can be a great way to tap into the audience’s empathy; something like ‘The other day I was…’, ‘When I was in school…’, ‘My mother always told me…’, etc. The best Ted Talks start this way. 

2. Take advantage of the potential of pauses and silences

Something that works really well is staying silent for a few seconds before starting your presentation, until you’re sure you’ve got your audience’s attention. Maintain your composure and wait for the right moment. Any way you choose to start your speech will work even better after this initial silence.

Pauses are essential to give your speech rhythm and also to give your audience time to assimilate the concepts. It’s important to manage them well from the start. For example, if you start with a rhetorical question in order to get your audience thinking, you should give them a few seconds to think of their answer. Similarly, if you start by presenting a problem, you need a few seconds of silence for it to have the desired effect.

Remember that pauses can be as important as words. It goes without saying that you won’t win your audience over in silence, but if you don’t use pauses well, your speech will be difficult to follow. If you use them wisely, it will improve vastly.

3. Focus your speech on your audience, not on yourself 

Although you may be an expert on your topic, it’s not a good idea to focus on conveying knowledge or information.

Your presentation will go a lot better if you connect with your audience, and it’s important to have this in mind when you’re thinking about how to start your speech. It’s not enough to simply choose some words or an opening formula. How do you want them to feel? What do you want to awaken in them? Curiosity? Laughter? Worry? If you succeed in activating your audience and making them feel something, that’s part of the success guaranteed.

4. Pay close attention to body language

It doesn’t matter how much value you can provide to your audience or how well you prepare, if you come in staring at the floor and your voice comes out a squeak, it won’t be easy to win your audience over. Body language is language too, and it says a lot! And not just externally. By demonstrating confidence in your tone and posture, you’ll also feel more confident in yourself.

Practice! Even if you think you don’t need to. If you manage your gestures and the tone of your voice, you’ll be able to project credibility from the very start.

Design creative presentations with Genially

The most effective presentations with interactivity and animation

5. Use spectacular visual resources 

A presentation will help you express what you want to say, but more importantly, it will help your audience follow the path of your speech. And, the more senses that are involved, the more complete their experience will be, and the more memorable your speech.

Make the most of the title page of your presentation; it declares your intentions. The title page will be on display until you start changing slides. It’s like a billboard, and it’s a good idea to take full advantage of it. Don’t limit it to just the title!

It’s very common to include the name of the event and/or a photo of the person giving the talk. Consider omitting both in the version of the presentation you use as visual support for your speech. The audience can see you and knows what event they’re at; don’t waste the space.

Use visual resources that match the tone of your speech; for example, a meme or GIF if you’re using humor, or an inspiring image to bring out the emotions that best suit your objectives.

Forget boring PowerPoints! An animated and interactive presentation will help you hook your audience much more effectively. Interactivity allows you to hide or layer information to offer a completely visual experience, and reveal it at just the right moment. Gone are the days when the audience would start to read the text instead of listening to you. And, animations are super effective for surprising your audience and catching everyone’s eyes.

With Genially, you can create interactive and animated presentations, and include all kinds of multimedia content to enrich your speech: GIFs, audios, videos, all in the same presentation. You can even download your genially to present it offline. So long, last-minute technology fails!

What’s more, if you choose a template, you won’t have to start from scratch. There are thousands! Check out this selection of templates for presentations. See any you like?

The best presentation templates to ensure success

Creative dossier

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Video presentation

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Terrazzo presentation

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Mobile app dossier

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Natalia De la Peña Frade
Natalia De la Peña Frade
Content creator: I try to write things you like to read
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