5 Effective Ways To Open a Speech

According to a somewhat successful speaker with examples

There is nothing quite like hooking up with an old flame.

You see her from afar in her Sunday best. You recognize the subtle details like the cute dimples that pinch her cheek, how her smile favors the left side a wee bit, and the way her hair cascades down her back with flowers weaved in between. Then, you reminisce. You think about the times you’ve had, the memories you’ve made, and the way she kissed your lips on the first date. It is bliss.

That is exactly how I felt a few days ago when I did a speech after more than a year of being alone in a room with nothing but my thoughts to keep me company.

It was a workshop on speech-making for beginners and I was the guest speaker. I thought it would be a fun idea to write down some of the advice I shared here so that anyone can read it and hopefully gain some new knowledge.

In this article, I want to share a few of my favorite techniques for an effective opening to a speech.

1. Quotation

“Words have power. Words by famous people have more power, apparently.” — by Kasun Ranasinghe.

If you start your speech by quoting a person of authority, a line from a text, or even a catchy one-liner from that TV show you love, it gives your speech gravitas. The quote can set the tone for what’s to come and keep the audience interested in how and why that quote connects to your speech.

Here is a great example by Andrew Solomon: Depression the secret we share.

2. Questions

Why do you think questions are a good opening for a speech?

It is because it piques the interest of the audience and makes them think — just like you started thinking when you read the question yourself.

Ask a question related to your speech at the very start and let it hang for a few seconds. The audience will be coming up with their own answers and wondering if it matches what you are about to say. It is a great way to grab and hold their attention for the duration of your time on stage.

What are animals thinking and feeling? by Carl Safina is a perfect example of this technique.

3. Humor

This technique is not a joke,

But, it can include jokes from a spectrum of horrible to hilarious. Opening with a joke relaxes the audience and makes you relatable from the get-go. Don’t worry about it being funny or not, as long as you are not doing standup, the audience will appreciate the effort you put in.

Here is one of the funniest speeches I go back to by James Veitch — This is what happens when you reply to spam emails.

4. Songs

“They leave me breathless…”

Because I can’t sing to save my life. But, I have seen and heard magnificent speakers who start with a song that blends beautifully to the message of their speech. It is a very powerful technique to surprise and intrigue the audience into paying attention to what you have to share.

Here is an opening to a speech I had the honor of helping create with Rochelle Silva called One at a Time.

“Heal the world, make it a better place
For you and for me and the entire human race”
Ladies and gentlemen and anyone who has ever wanted to heal the world..,
Raise your hand if you have heard this song before!

You can read the full story here.

5. Drama and a prop

“Oh my god!” the writer's jaw drops onto the keyboard as he realizes it is very challenging to represent dramatic actions on a written medium.

This is my favorite way to start my speeches. I am a very dramatic person (on stage) and I let my imagination run wild. I sometimes enhance the drama by using props. This catches the audience off guard and shocks them into paying attention to me wondering when I might explode next. But, on a serious note, a dramatic opening can give the speech the energy it needs to stand out. It can hype up the audience and make them want to jump on every word that follows.

Here is a great example by World Champion of Public Speaking 2014 — Dananjaya Hettiarachchi

Final Thoughts

It was awesome to get back into speeches after so long. It felt like the old days, sharing what little knowledge I had with the next generation of speakers in our university.

I hope you found these techniques interesting. Try them out with your friends and family and see how they turn out. Please do share some techniques you use to capture the audience in the comments. I’m always looking to learn more.

Thank you for reading and have a great day!

Amateur writer, storyteller, speaker, and engineer.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store