It’s that horrible moment! You’ve just been called to stage, your audience is silent, waiting for you to open your mouth and now it’s your turn. But what do you say? How do you start a speech with power and confidence, rather than the usual “Erm… thanks very much for inviting me here…”
The simple truth is… your audience will judge you from the very first line of your speech. It may sound harsh but it’s very true. So it’s a good idea to start your speech with certainty and confidence, to quickly build a connection with the audience so they are eager to hear what you have to say next.
There are many different ways to start your speech but it’s not just about the words you use. Creating a strong first impression is about more than your opening lines.
- Prepare to be yourself!
- First words count
- Telling your story
- Trying different approaches
- Reconnecting with yourself
1. Starting a speech: Prepare to be yourself!
Before you start to write your speech, think about your natural style and how you want people to feel. Give yourself time to consider:
- What qualities would you like to display as a speaker?
- What benefit would you like to give to your audience?
This will help you choose an authentic way to start your speech and will guide the rest of your talk in a direction that stays true to your individual personality and purpose. But that doesn’t mean playing it safe and being predictable. You can step out of your comfort zone – in fact, we positively encourage our speakers to be fearless – but that’s about stretching your true self rather than trying to be someone you’re not.
2. Starting a speech: First words count
And now onto what you’re going to say. First off, avoid starting a speech with lines like:
- Thank you so much, it’s a pleasure to be here
- I’m sorry, this isn’t going to take very long
- I was only asked last week/yesterday/10 minutes ago to do this speech
- A funny thing happened to me whilst trying to find the venue…
- Thanks for coming
This is your moment to shine, so shine from the get-go. To start a speech with power, find something unique, engaging and memorable to say. And make sure it’s a line that you’re 100% comfortable with, so your talk flies rather than sags from the beginning.
Here are some ideas from some of our favourite speech beginnings:
You might start your speech with a provocative question –
- “How do you explain why some people are able to achieve things that seem impossible?” – Simon Sinek, TEDx Talk
- “What do I know that would cause me, a reticent, Midwestern scientist, to get myself arrested in front of the White House protesting? And what would you do if you knew what I know?” – James Hansen, TED Talk
An amazing or shocking fact –
- “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, TED Talk
- “I’m talking to you about the worst form of human rights violation, the third-largest organized crime, a $10 billion industry. I’m talking to you about modern-day slavery.” – Sunitha Krishnan, TED Talk
A joke –
- “Good morning. How are you? It’s been great, hasn’t it? I’ve been blown away by the whole thing. In fact, I’m leaving.” – Ken Robinson, TED Talk
- “Okay, now I don’t want to alarm anybody in this room, but it’s just come to my attention that the person to your right is a liar.” – Pamela Mayer, TED Talk
By evoking an image –
- “Imagine, if you will — a gift. I’d like for you to picture it in your mind. It’s not too big — about the size of a golf ball.” -Stacey Kramer TED Talk
- “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, TED Talk
All of these speech beginnings get the audience connected and ready to listen. And a great opening line allows you to settle into your speech so that you can shine.
It feels a little scary cutting to the chase rather than dwelling on niceties. But you will have far more impact if you draw people into your talk immediately. And the audience will have heard the same bland introductions over and over again, so you’re actually doing them a favour by getting straight to the point!
3. Starting a speech: Telling your story
Start a speech with a compelling introduction to a story is a powerful way to begin. Even the driest of subjects can be brought to life through storytelling. Think about what drives you to do what you do. Has there been a pivotal moment in your life or career that led you to this moment? Did someone tell you that you’d never be able to do what you are doing now? Or can you paint a picture of a person you’ve helped, or want to help – what does that look like?
Stories can immediately connect you with your audience and set the tone for the whole talk. And people are far more likely to listen to, remember and share your speech if it’s rooted in a strong story, rather than stuffed with facts and theory.
4. Starting a speech: Trying different approaches
Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few different ways to begin your speech, it’s time to try them out. It’s a bit like choosing a new item of clothing – it might look good on the hanger but it’s not until you try it on that you know whether it’s the right fit for you. By saying the opening lines out loud, you’ll get a feel for which ones are right for you.
Having said that, it’s important to challenge yourself to do something different, which may feel a little uncomfortable at first. One of the best ways to find out how your speech is likely to go down with the audience is to get independent, expert advice. The opportunity to explore and experiment with different styles in a safe environment is a huge benefit to our clients at Ginger. Our experienced coaches provide affirming feedback to help people understand and develop their strengths while challenging them to be even more ambitious with their speaking. If you feel like you are playing it a bit safe, then have a look at our training options so we can help you speak with more impact.
5. Starting a speech: Reconnecting with yourself
As it gets closer to the big day when you are going to deliver your talk, you can spend all the time in the world worrying about speaking. Am I wearing the right clothing? Do I have all my stuff here? What will the audience think of me? What if I forget what I’m going to say? It’s really common to find yourself in a whirl of endless questions which only serve to build your nerves.
Many people describe public speaking as an ‘out-of-body’ experience, where they become so disconnected with themselves and the audience that they are unaware of what they are doing and can’t remember a thing about it afterwards.
But the best speakers are fully present in the moment. According to Ginger coach Liz Balmford: “We can’t say for sure that they’re ‘relishing’ it, but perhaps one of the things that makes them compelling is their surrender to the moment, being fully present in their story and their message. I believe it’s this presence that makes them believable, that captivates us and makes us want to follow them.”
To start a speech with power and confidence, it is vital that you reconnect with yourself before you get up to speak. That means spending a few moments getting back to yourself by finding a method to quieten the nerves and break the distance between yourself and your speaking. You might like to head outside for a few moments or even go to the loo; or find a place that is a little bit quiet and do a short breathing exercise. Focus in on your breath as well as your intentions for your speaking.
Doing this allows you to be grounded and will help you to start your speech as yourself, rather than starting from a place of panic or self-doubt.
Many people find it helpful to start this reconnection much earlier than the few minutes before their talk – for example, starting the day with meditation or mindfulness, taking a walk in nature, or going for a run. Whatever helps you to minimise distractions and worries.
Putting it all together
So, starting a speech is not as much about what you say as you might think. In fact, the key thing about starting a speech is to get yourself in the right state. If you show your confidence, your audience will have confidence in you too. But you don’t have to start ‘all-guns-blazing’.
The biggest cause of nerves in public speaking is that most of us try to be someone we’re not; so to get started with confidence, begin by being yourself. If the kapow, kapow approach just isn’t your style, then don’t start your speech like that. Find a different way to start that’s powerful for you.
Permission to be authentic.
The key to starting a speech with power and confidence involves knowing what you’re good at and doing more of that; pushing yourself to try different ways to start your speech; telling your story; getting feedback on what works from the audience’s perspective; and staying connected with yourself as you step forward to do your talk. If you bring these elements together, you’ll captivate your audience as soon as you start speaking.
As the wise Maya Angelou said:
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
If you’d like to find out more about how you can get your talk off to a strong start, you can download our free guide: The 10 best ways to start your talk. And if you’d like to maximise your public speaking impact, take a look at our classes page for a range of training options.
Learn to speak with Power and Confidence. Here’s a selection of courses that will help you develop your sills as a confident public speaker:
Pubilc Speaking Essentials
TED Style Presentation Training