How To Nail The Start Of Your Speech And Get The Crowd's Attention

Steve Jobs was the master of getting to the point. Photo: Getty

Getting the attention of an audience when making a speech is no easy task. The first few seconds are the most crucial of the entire talk.

There are many times — especially when you’re in one of the later slots on a speaking schedule — when your audience will be tired, thinking about what they’re doing later.

Business Insider sought the advice of two of Australia’s leading executive speaking professionals — Michael Kelly, Director of Kelly Speech Communication, and Darren Fleming, Director of Executive Speaking — to find out how to get it right.

Kelly believes the most important question a person should ask themselves before making a speech is why anyone should listen to them. Once you have identified why people should listen to you, it’s important to leverage it to captivate the audience in the first 30 seconds.

But there’s a balance: You might explain why people should listen to you, but don’t make the mistake of just talking about yourself.

Flemming explained: “The worst thing people do when opening a speech is make it all about them, the speaker. The audience cares about themselves, so make the presentation about the audience. Make the opening about the audience.

“When speakers understand that, they will connect with their audience more quickly, more deeply and in a more longer-lasting way.”

When it comes to addressing the audience and guests there can be some confusion around the appropriate etiquette.

Fleming says in a boardroom situation, such as when you’re a potential client pitching for a contract, you should not acknowledge the board members.

He says this is because you’ve most probably met them already and it would make the situation feel “awkward and filtered”.

But if it was an official ceremony or conference it would be appropriate for the CEO of the business to address the dignitaries attending.

While Fleming says this address should only be made once and by the opening speaker, Kelly says knowing when to address guests depends on the situation and the environment.

“If you are going to acknowledge them I would do it after you hook the audience to listen you – answering that question ‘why should I listen to you’ and delivering your key messages… In the house-keeping you should acknowledge the distinguished guests present.

“For dignitaries you might do it right at the start, (such as) the Governor General. In a business presentation you would do it after you hook the audience and give the key messages you want them to retain… then you would acknowledge the guests that are here.”

Overall Kelly said acknowledging those who have taken the time to attend is very important.

“I think people like to be acknowledged unless they tell you ‘do not acknowledge me’.

“If you know your subject so well that you can focus on your audience and see that there is a luminary in the audience, it is good to say ‘x,y, and z are here today’.”

Kelly says this forms a relationship with those you are speaking to and that as a speaker you want to be welcoming.

“It is good to note when people have made the effort to be there.”

He continued by explaining the importance of keeping this introduction short and simple.

“I think you should just be very cordial, like you acknowledge anyone. Just keep it conversational, genuine, brief. Sometimes people go too much into it and say ‘this person has a very busy schedule etc’, just leave that out.

“I think if there are so many (guests, you would) leave some out. I think the more senior, the more prestigious ones you would acknowledge. Just be aware of the hierarchy. Just do you best and if you forgot someone just admit it and say “sorry I missed…” Just do your best.

Here are a few of Darren Fleming’s tips to write a cracker speech opener.

Write the opening last: “People will usually have a great opener that they want to use and then they make the content that they want to deliver fit that opening. The presentation is not about the opening. It is all about the content so work out what it is you want to say and then find an opening that fits that.”

Get to the point, it adds impact and power.

Don’t offer a commentary: “Don’t say ‘I would like to ask you a question’ or ‘I would like to tell you a story’. Just ask the question or tell the story.”

Finally, Fleming’s last word of advice, and maybe the most important: “It is about being true to who you are and what your message is.”

He said “It’s not so much about reading the audience as opposed to reading who I am and what my message is and who I am.”

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