The first few seconds of your speech are the most important. In those moments, you set the tone for the rest of your address and either hook the audience or fail to capture their attention. There are several ways to get your audience to tune in. You could surprise them or entertain them, give them a question, or appeal to their emotions.
If you want to nail the opening of your next public address, try one of these 10 tactics. Each one is sure to grab attention if used correctly — just make sure the starting lines you choose fit with the rest of your speech.
1. Ask the audience “what if”
Grab your audience’s attention and make them think by giving them a “what if” scenario. “What if you could spot a liar at first sight? Would it make you think twice about who you speak to?”
By asking the audience “what if” you put them in a mindset to better appreciate the topic of your speech. Just be sure your “what if” question is relevant to the rest of your address.
2. Use a surprising statistic
Numbers impress people and when used correctly, statistics can be powerful. They’re especially impactful when you make them personal to your audience. “Nine out of ten people in this room will _____ today.”
By using a number to get your point across, you appeal to your audience’s emotional side. It helps put a certain issue or problem into context, which is the perfect setup for the rest of your speech.
3. Pose a rhetorical question
When you ask someone a question, they intuitively feel the need to answer. Even rhetorical questions like “Who wouldn’t want to work fewer hours every week?” can spark curiosity.
With a rhetorical question as your speech opening, your audience wonders if you’ll answer it seriously or refute the inherent claim the question makes. “Who wouldn’t want to work fewer hours every week? I’ll tell you who…”
4. Quote someone famous
Sometimes the best way to illustrate your point is to use someone else’s words. If you use the right quote for your opening, it can entertain, surprise or mystify your audience. “Yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games.” – Babe Ruth
By starting with a quote your audience will wonder why that quote matters to your speech. Even if they’ve heard the quote before, they might still be surprised with the way you use it.
5. Be positive
Start the speech off on a high note and say something positive or cheery. Show your audience that you are excited to be there and that you can’t wait to share your speech with them. “We’re going to have a great time together this evening. I’ve got some exciting insights to share with you.”
Your audience will pick up on your enthusiasm and want to listen more closely to know what you’re so excited about.
6. Compliment the audience
When you pay someone a compliment, they’re much more open to listening to what you have to say. Use the same technique on your audience. “You are this industry’s thought leaders and it is an honor to be with you today.”
Show them respect and compliment them sincerely at the start of your speech. After you have their attention, you can also tell them you genuinely look forward to sharing your speech with them.
7. Mention a relevant current event
If there’s a current event or news story you can tie to your speech topic, referencing that event can make an effective speech opening. If it’s a popular piece of news, your audience members may have already heard about it and will wonder what it has to do with your address. “Today I read _____ and it got me thinking…”
You could also choose some industry-specific news tailored to your audience, or something lesser-known to pique their interest.
8. Bring up a recent conversation
Starting your speech with a conversation you’ve had only works if it’s related to your topic. It should be fascinating, insightful, or useful somehow to the point you want to make. “A few weeks ago I was talking with a friend of mine and she told me she’d never been to an amusement park.”
Nothing is more boring than listening to someone tell a story about a conversation they had with someone else if you’re not interested in what was said. Even if the conversation you’re referencing isn’t totally related to your speech, you can mention the insights you drew from it.
9. Entertain the audience
Public speakers and entertainers have similar jobs — they both want the audience’s attention. If you can start your speech by entertaining your audience, it’ll make your address more memorable. Telling a joke or funny story is usually entertaining, if you tell the right one. “Of all the introductions I’ve received, that was by far the most recent.”
Humor and entertainment make the audience feel more at ease. If you can get them laughing or smiling, then you have their attention.
10 Share a fact about yourself
Tell the audience something about yourself and relate it to your speech. It could be where you’re from, something from your past, or an unusual hobby. “I raced motocross competitively for about 7 years as a kid.” You could also take the opportunity to tell the story of your professional success, if that’s the reason you’ve been invited to speak.
When you talk about yourself, you become more relatable for your audience members. When they feel they have something in common with you, they’ll listen more intently to you.
A solid speech opening captures your audience’s attention
The 10 approaches here are all effective speech openings when deployed correctly. However you choose to start your speech, just remember to make it relevant to your topic. When you connect the clever opening to the rest of your main points, you end up giving a memorable public address.