Public speaking causes a bit of anxiety for everyone—even practiced presenters. However, giving a talk doesn’t have to wrack your nerves completely. The trick is to wow your listeners with a great opening.
By starting strong, you’ll capture your audience’s attention and get them interested in what’s to come. From that point on, you can relax a bit as you hit all your major points. Here are a few tips for starting a speech that engages listeners and sticks in their memory.
Quotations are great stuff. Authors often use them to introduce a section, chapter, or entire book. People love quotes because they’re easy to remember and they say so much in just a sentence or two.
It’s easy to find a quote that relates to the subject matter of your speech. You may run across one as you’re doing your research. If not, simply try a website such as BrainyQuote or Quoteland. You can search by author, topic, or keyword for the perfect saying.
Starting a speech with a joke is a surefire way to get interest. Many people expect speeches to be longwinded and boring. Opening a presentation with humor helps people relax and tells them they’re going to enjoy what they’re about to hear. Remember that a joke works best if it relates to your general topic.
Of course, you have to use humor judiciously. Many subjects—such as euthanasia, abortion, homicide—aren’t appropriate for joking around. Finally, be sure your comment won’t offend anyone. Leave that to the stand-up comedians.
Asking a question at the beginning of your speech is another way to captivate listeners. An audience, even if interested in your topic, is prepared for you to inundate them with facts. Many people will have one ear open while they think about something else. It’s up to you to win them over.
When you open with a question, it gets their gears turning. When listeners start thinking about how they’d answer you, your speech becomes interactive instead of passive.
To make a convincing argument, you can begin your presentation with a shocking statistic. If your audience isn’t familiar with the details of your topic, or if listeners don’t know where they stand on the issue, a statistic can galvanize their opinion.
Once a listener has a strong opinion, he or she will be much more likely to pay attention for the duration of your speech. Statistics are particularly useful for stirring action, because they tell people just how serious a particular situation is.
Recounting a short story is a great way to turn ears in your direction. The kind of story you tell depends on the type of speech you’re making as well as the topic you’re covering. If you’re speaking about something that’s dear to your heart, a personal story shows the audience your level of commitment.
You could also tell a story about or by a celebrated figure. If your topic is about helping a particular group of people, you could relate a story about one person who’s affected by the issue. Just respect that person’s privacy by keeping any identifying details out of your talk. Using a fake name is a good idea as well.
Sometimes, a riddle wakes up the audience. Most people love to try to solve riddles. At the same time, listeners will wonder how the riddle relates to what you’re going to talk about.
Another version of the riddle is the Zen koan. A koan is a nonsensical question that cannot necessarily be answered. However, reflecting on such a paradox stimulates logic. A koan can be a great way to illustrate your point.
Remember that even if you’ve started your speech strongly, you need to conclude it just as adeptly. Think of your presentation as a sandwich. Your opening and closing are the bread. Without two hearty slices holding everything together, the filling just becomes a jumble of ingredients.
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