Eight Great Ways To Open A Speech (Part Three)

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on April 20, 2012 – 6:10 am

Editor’s Note: This is the third and final part of a three-part series featuring eight great ways to open a speech. You can read part one here and part two here

Over the past two days, you’ve learned that the opening minutes of a presentation are often the most important. And as you know by now, the authors of The Definitive Book of Body Language have found that the audience forms 60 – 80 percent of its impression of a speaker within the first four minutes.

Therefore, I hope you’ll invest time in creating an opening that’s better than “Good morning. Thank you for inviting me here today. I’m excited to talk to you. Today’s agenda will be… (zzzzzzzz)….”

Today’s post will cover three final ways to open a presentation or speech: building off the conference theme, mentioning something in the news, and using humor.

Opening Number Six: Build Off The Conference Theme

You can build an open by using the name of the conference, program, or event (or something relevant about the city, state, country, or hotel where you’re giving your speech).

For example, I once provided media training at a conference being held in Indianapolis. The conference planners used the Indy 500 (a famous annual auto race) as a conference theme, which immediately made me think of the red, yellow, green, and checkered flags that are used as signals to drivers (those flags mean stop, caution, start, and end, respectively).

I used the flags as my opening. I discussed the moments when spokespersons are on safe ground (the green), how they begin to get into trouble (the yellow), and how they occasionally meet media disaster (the red). The problem for many spokespersons, I argued, is that they don’t know when to stop talking (the checkered).

Opening Number Seven: Mention Something In The News

It’s often easy to turn a generic speech topic into something immediately relevant to your audience.

For example, let’s say your presentation is about a new program that will help businesses store their data in a more secure manner. It’s not hard to imagine that a data breach of some sort has occurred recently (the more recent the incident, the better it is, at least for your purposes).

Do some research and try to find a current example you can use as your presentation opening. Along the way, you might find information you can use during the body of your talk, as well.

For example, you might begin:

“(holding up yesterday’s Wall Street Journal) “This is yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. On the front page, you may have seen a story about a major data breach at Bank of America. In total, 400,000 customer accounts were compromised, which will cost the Bank and its insurance company more than $2 million to remedy.

(holding up three other newspapers) These are articles about three other data breaches that affected three other companies last week. Those three breaches will cost the companies a total of at least $600,000 to fix.

Here’s the crazy part. All four of those incidents were preventable. Easily preventable. Had any of those four businesses been using our product, they could have spared themselves millions of dollars and spared their customers unnecessary worry.”

Opening Number Eight: Use Humor

I saved this one for last, because humor is the riskiest of the eight possible opens. Opening a speech with humor can be incredibly effective – but the humor should be directly tied to your main point.

Unless you’re extraordinarily funny, don’t attempt a joke similar to those often told by stand-up comedians. Share a humorous story, quote someone else who said something funny, or begin by showing a particularly funny cartoon. Don’t deliver your lines like you’re expecting a laugh – if the audience happens to laugh, that’s great – but if they don’t, just keep going as if that was the plan all along.

Here’s an example of a (hopefully humorous) true anecdote I once used to open a speech about communication disconnects:

“My mother once called her insurance agent and told her she wanted to insure art.

The agent asked, “Why?” My mother replied, “Well, you know, in case something happens.”

The agent replied, “But what do you think is going to happen?” My mother, by now thoroughly flustered that her insurance agent didn’t seem to understand the purpose of insurance, stammered, “I don’t know. Maybe get stolen? Or get hurt?”

“But why would someone want to steal art?” the agent testily retorted.

It was then, at that moment, that my mother realized what was going wrong. (pause)

My father’s name is Art. (pause)

Those types of disconnects happen in business all the time, so today, I’m going to talk about the best ways to prevent committing your own ‘insuring Art’ moment.”

If you enjoyed this series, would you please share it with your social networks? Thank you for reading!

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

    Brad Phillips

    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

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    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

    Christina tweets at @PMRChristina.

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