How to start a speech: step-by-step guide

Knowing how to start a speech is a valuable skill that can help you deliver engaging content. A strong opening statement can improve the odds of grabbing the audience’s attention and them connecting with your overall message.

Regardless of the topic, knowing how to start a speech effectively can directly impact the overall tone of your presentation. This guide will show you the dos and don’ts for starting a speech and provide some useful tips and tricks.

Why do you need to know how to start a speech well?

The beginning of a speech serves as the foundation for effective communication. Here’s why:

  • Captures attention: most audiences only listen intently for 15 to 20 minutes, so the opening moments are crucial for grabbing their interest and ensuring they remain engaged.
  • Establishes connection: it offers the opportunity to connect with the audience on a personal level, making them feel valued and invested in the message.
  • Sets tone and expectations: the beginning sets the tone for the rest of the speech, signaling whether it will be formal, casual, serious or light-hearted. It also outlines what listeners can expect to learn from the presentation.
  • Builds credibility: a strong opening establishes your credibility as the speaker and expertise on the topic. It’s how you earn the audience’s trust and respect.
  • Creates anticipation: the beginning creates anticipation and curiosity among listeners by testing the main points or highlighting intriguing aspects of the topic.
  • Provides context: it offers an opportunity to provide context or background information, ensuring that the audience understands the topic’s significance.

Being charismatic and engaging from the beginning will increase the odds of an audience hearing and comprehending what you are sharing. As the speaker, you need to find the strategy you feel comfortable with to engage the audience.

How to prepare for your speech

Preparing to write a speech requires careful planning and consideration to ensure your message resonates with your audience. From defining your purpose and audience to organizing your ideas and crafting a compelling narrative, each step is crucial for delivering a memorable and impactful speech.

Determine your objective

Start by clarifying the purpose: inform, persuade, entertain, or inspire? This will set the tone and ensure your speech resonates.

Understanding your objective guides content and structure, keeping you focused on your goal throughout the writing process. It also helps you choose the appropriate tone, language and supporting materials for maximum impact.

After you have given your speech, you can reflect on your original objective and assess your success. This is a useful tool for ensuring you meet your intended outcome and enables you to make adjustments for future speeches.

Know your audience members

Knowing your audience and understanding what your participants hope to gain from your speech can prove invaluable. If an audience finds your topic irrelevant from the start, it will be hard to win them back. They might find it difficult to remain interested, likely switching off or thinking about something else.

Understanding your audience can make all the difference. Directing your content toward the interests and needs of the audience will make it easier to keep them actively engaged and focused on your topic.

12 tips for starting a speech and keeping your audience engaged

Follow these tips to kickstart your speech in the best possible way.

1. Thank the organizers

Whether you thank the organizers for inviting you to speak at the event is a personal choice.

Consider Toastmasters, a non-profit organization that helps people improve their public speaking and leadership skills. The organization sets a standard for starting presentations, which is quite formal. A speaker says, “Mr Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and honored guests…” before starting their speech.

An invitation to speak means the organizers have vetted you. They know who you are and what value you will provide. You may want to acknowledge the organization for the opportunity, but your acknowledgment should only be short.

2. Be confident

Have confidence in your opening statement. Always introduce yourself and identify as an individual with topic-related expertise. This ensures the audience members develop respect for your authority and knowledge of the material.

3. Acknowledge the audience

Compliment the audience and treat them with respect. Smile sincerely to acknowledge you are happy to be there and thank them for attending your presentation.

Share how you feel honored to be among the industry’s greatest minds, exploring key ideas. Reveal your agenda for the rest of the event so the audience knows what to expect moving forward.

Knowing who is in the audience can also be crucial. What type of learners do you have? Are they analytical learners, influencers or dominants? Using the DiSC method to gauge your audience beforehand can be helpful.

4. Get directly to the point

Encourage audience members to stay engaged by telling them your presentation’s goal. For example, “Today, my goal is to have you leave with tools to better connect with your employees.”

Deliver your content confidently and immediately start with the main topic of discussion to avoid unnecessary banter. This may lose your audience’s attention.

Strong body language can positively impact your message delivery and help the audience remain focused.

5. Correlate your topic with current events

Many professional speakers link the theme of their speech to a well-known current event receiving widespread media attention. Most people are interested in newsworthy events, so this tactic can keep them interested in what you are saying.

While this can be an effective way to start a speech, be sure your chosen current event isn’t controversial. It should be something most audience members will receive positively.

6. Make a historical statement

Another common way to connect with an audience is to reference a historical personality or event. Many participants will believe the content is more powerful and worth listening to. This adds to your credibility.

Use examples of historical leaders and discuss their challenges, strengths and achievements, relating their experiences to what you are attempting to portray to your audience.

7. Make a shocking statement

Making a shocking statement supported by factual data can intrigue an audience to pay attention. The material doesn’t need to scare them but rather keep them actively engaged and thinking analytically.

8. Present a problem

Starting your speech with a problem can encourage audience members to help find a solution.

Posing an issue everyone has in common is key to gaining the audience’s undivided attention. Working together toward finding an answer can be rewarding for all involved.

9. Use a quote from recent research

Support your findings with the results of recent research relating to your topic of discussion.

While it’s important to share accurate data, don’t reference too much statistical information. This can leave people confused and make it harder for them to concentrate on the material you are sharing. Instead, be clear and concise, using direct quotes from the experts who conducted the research.

10.  Rely on your strengths and be entertaining

Understand your strengths and use them to your advantage to keep audience members actively engaged and entertained.

Avoid speaking in a monotone voice. Instead, adopt a variable, natural pitch and use powerful body language and fluid movement to ensure effective interaction with the audience.

Remember to smile! This will engage the audience from the beginning. It also shows them you are enjoying your topic.

Pausing at the beginning of your presentation and making eye contact with audience members can be a handy trick. It will capture the audience’s attention and create anticipation.

Share your material in a fun and interesting way right from the start to set the tone for the duration of your presentation.

11. Use familiarity

Using familiar terms and sharing information the audience can relate to is an ideal way to start a speech. It encourages participants to listen to your presentation with an open mind.

Starting your speech with something audience members are unfamiliar with is a surefire way to lose their interest and struggle to win it back.

12. Start your speech with inspiration

A speech’s ultimate purpose is to inspire audience members to take action. You also want to inform them of the positive impact they can have.

Whether you want them to purchase a product, invest in your project, learn a new technique or understand a complex formula, everything you say should be the focus of the desired action.

13. Make a strong statement followed by a question

A powerful opening statement related to the context of your presentation can immediately entice your audience. Following this statement with a direct question will encourage audience members to pay attention, think carefully and come up with an answer.

You can get to know your audience by using key questions to get them involved. For example:

  • “Who agrees with this statement?”
  • “Who thinks we should do this instead of that?”

Since most people feel inclined to find a solution when presented with a question, they will instinctively want to answer you. This tactic can make your audience more likely to continue listening to you throughout your speech.

14. Use props and interactive technology

Integrating props and interactive technology at the onset of a professional speech can significantly elevate its impact.

Props serve as visual aids, reinforcing key messages and enhancing audience comprehension. Meanwhile, interactive technology fosters engagement, inviting the audience to actively take part in the presentation.

This combination of tactics captures the audience’s attention and creates a dynamic and memorable experience.

What to avoid when starting your speech

Here are some things it’s best to avoid when starting your speech:

1. Projecting low energy

Audiences are quick to pick up on nonverbal cues, such as poor posture or low energy. If your mannerisms are distracting and your speaking technique makes you appear unconfident, the audience will likely lose interest.

Consider doing some yoga poses to boost your energy levels, increase blood flow and warm up your muscles before a presentation. Downward-facing dog and sun salutations are good examples.

You can also try using essential oils, especially citrus-based oils, to activate your senses. Add them to a diffuser or inhale them lightly.

2. Opening with a topic that doesn’t relate to the event or audience

Starting a speech with a generic topic that’s irrelevant to the event you are speaking at will lead to confusion among audience members. They may lose interest in what you are trying to relay.

3. Appearing anxious or nervous

While many people are uncomfortable with public speaking, addressing your feelings of inadequacy is never a good idea. Never start a speech with an apology.

Touching your face, adjusting your clothing, awkward gestures and other signs of nervousness can be detrimental to how an audience perceives your ability to present the material. Your inability to remain calm and stay focused will distract them and possibly even make them feel uncomfortable.

To combat nerves, visualize your speech going seamlessly before you get started. Also, take deep breaths – lots of them!

4. Being overconfident

Being overconfident can also deter your audience and make them feel uncomfortable. There’s a fine line between lacking confidence and overcompensating.

Try to match the audience’s knowledge level. This is how you build a relationship that encourages audience members to share your ideas and connect with what you say. They may quickly lose interest if you appear too confident.

5. Discussing too many statistics

Including too many statistics in your opening statement can make it difficult for audience members to focus. They might get lost in the data and doubt their ability to keep up with what you’re saying, causing them to switch off or get distracted.

This type of opening appeals to the analytical learner. They love numbers! If you use numbers, show an example so other (or different) learners can appreciate the statistical angle.

While it’s okay to use statistics to grab the audience’s attention, try to use figures sparingly, especially at the start of your speech.

6. Focusing too much on your company

Try not to share too many details about yourself or your company, as this can distract audience members from the main topic. It can also confuse them. They might not understand what you are intending to share.

Stay focused on the subject matter and avoid making the speech a campaign about working with your company – unless, of course, that’s the intention.

We’re all proud of what we do and the organization’s we represent, but you need to adopt a strategic approach to promote a company or business. Whatever you say about yourself or your business should back up and complement your wider message.

7. Using provocative or inappropriate language

Always remain professional and avoid provocative or inappropriate language. Don’t try to be funny or use slang terms, and keep your words clear and concise.

Unacceptable behavior will be off-putting for many audience members, so start your speech with language and actions that are appropriate to the setting and audience. This will set a positive tone for the rest of the presentation.

This is why knowing your audience is crucial. People who attend a stand-up performance at a comedy club will be expecting foul language. Professionals attending a presentation will expect a more formal approach.

Learn how to start a speech with power and confidence

Join other industry-leading companies and get instant access to storytelling tips and tricks with the Pip Decks Storyteller Card Tactics Deck. This is a practical toolkit designed to help you thrive in your career or business. You’ll learn how to ensure boring PowerPoints are a thing of the past, get your audience leaning in and have your message remembered.

This deck is the perfect tool for getting started when you don’t know where to begin or to get unstuck when you feel lost. Our cards offer clear step-by-step instructions that get straight to the point without jargon, using prompts that are easy to follow for both novices and experts alike.

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