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start your speech with impact

How to start a speech or presentation

January 13, 2016

How do you start a speech or presentation with impact?

Think of how you typically start a speech or presentation. Do you begin with any of these lines?:

– Hi, my name is … and I’m here to talk about…
– Before I start, I want to introduce myself…
– Thank you all for coming, I’m really pleased to be here…

If so, you are sacrificing the impact of the most important part of your speech or presentation.

Audiences form their overall impression of you and your message within the first minute or two of you starting. They use this time to decide whether or not to continue paying attention. That’s why it’s so important to hook and engage them immediately.

In addition, psychologists have demonstrated a phenomenon known as the primacy effect. Your audience are more likely to remember and recall the first bits of information you present them with. Therefore whatever you say in your opening lines should relate clearly and powerfully to your key message.

Break the bad habit of weak beginnings with these powerful ways to start a speech or presentation:

How to start a speech or presentation – Option 1: Tell a story

Is there a short anecdote relevant to your topic that you could open with? If you can, use a local or topical angle for your anecdote. The audience will know that you have tailored your talk for them. This will help to keep things fresh for you, too, particularly if you are delivering the same talk or presentation several times.

Or maybe there’s one big story that will pull your whole presentation together? You could deliver the beginning of the story to kick off your speech or presentation. Then, hold back the climax of the story until the finish, to keep the audience in suspense throughout.

Watch this technique in action: See how designer Danit Peleg starts off her speech with a short anecdote that sets the scene.

How to start a speech or presentation – Option 2: Ask a question

This could be a rhetorical question to make the audience think, or it could involve asking the audience to respond, usually by raising their hands if something applies to them. Alternatively, you could set out the question that your talk will address.

Watch this technique in action: Here’s how 17 year-old Raymond Wang – winner of the 2015 Intel Science and Engineering Fair top prize – uses the question technique to start his TED talk.

How to start a speech or presentation – Option 3: Describe a scenario

This technique blends the first two approaches. It sets a scene and prompts the audience to imagine what they would do or think in those circumstances. Scenarios are an effective way of demonstrating the relevance of abstract topics to the lives of the audience.

To use this technique, first give an everyday example. Then, get the audience to consider their own viewpoint before you set out to change or challenge it.

Watch this technique in action: See UPS’s Human Resource Manager, Regina Hartley, begin her presentation by setting out a scenario.

How to start a speech or presentation – Option 4: Do something completely unexpected

Will your audience have certain expectations about you or your talk, before you even begin? Starting with something unexpected – or even shocking – will make them reconsider their preconceived ideas immediately.

The way you do this needs to be relevant to your topic to avoid being gimmicky. When done well, it can be memorable, potentially humorous and even remarkable – with audience members sharing and reliving their reactions afterwards.

Watch this technique in action: Our final example is Mohammed Qahtani, the winner of the 2015 Toastmasters Championship. Watch how he starts his thought provoking speech on the power of words.

How to deal with housekeeping, introductions or pleasantries

Leave the housekeeping, introductions or pleasantries to the person who welcomes you to the front of the room.

If you need to cover some low impact but essential content, or if you won’t be introduced by anyone, it’s still important to begin with a high impact first minute or two. You can then loop back to the housekeeping, introductions or pleasantries once you have successfully engaged your audience.

Start your journey to world-class public speaking skills now

First, download our free ebook to start your journey towards becoming a Powerful Presenter.

You’ll learn our 5-step process for transforming dull, forgettable and un-engaging presentations into your most Powerful Presentations yet: inspirational, memorable and persuasive.

It’s full of practical tips and insightful quotes that will help you make immediate improvements to your leadership talks and presentations, including:

  • Increased confidence when you talk and present.
  • Improved ability to persuade your audience.
  • Greater engagement with your audience.
  • Practical ways to plan and structure your talks.
  • The inspiration and motivation to change.

Download your free copy of our Five Steps to Improve your Leadership Talks ebook now.

Do you need help with the start of a speech or presentation?

Benjamin Ball Associates helps clients to connect with their audiences effectively. We’ll help you create a powerful first impression that hooks and engages your audience immediately and we’ll coach you to deliver clearly, confidently and with impact.

Call Louise on 020 7193 0130 or email louise@nullbenjaminball.com to find out more and discuss your upcoming speech or presentation.

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