How to Start a Speech
Do's and Don'ts
A speech’s introduction is its most
If you lose your audience in the first
15 seconds to 2 minutes, you might as well pack your bags
and go home. You’ll never — or almost never — regain
Here are some tips to help you get
through the first few moments of your speech:
- Do Memorize your First Sentence
For the first 10 seconds or so of any speech
your mind is doing its best to fight off an anxiety
attack. It’s not the time to be creative. Write out your
first sentence or two. And memorize it. (By the time
you’ve made it through those first daunting moments,
your mind will begin to function again.)
- Don't Start with a Joke
Unless you’re a gifted comic, the chances of
getting an audience to laugh at a joke right at the start
are miniscule. Why invite disaster? Making some
self-deprecating, humorous remark, on the other hand, is a
great way to begin. (You can, if appropriate, tell a joke
later in your presentation, after the audience has warmed
up to you.)
- Don't Waste Time with
Winston Churchill called opening pleasantries
“banalities.” Don’t tell the audience how happy you
are to be speaking to them. Don’t tell them what a great
group of people they are. Don’t acknowledge the
dignitaries in the audience. It all sounds like so much
hooey. (You can make similar comments later in your speech
when they’ll sound more sincere.)
- Do Jump Right In
Tell a story. Make a startling assertion. Ask a
provocative question. Cite a brief quote or outrageous
statistic. Whatever you do, just do it. Don’t introduce
- Don't Apologize
“I’m sorry I didn’t have more time to
prepare.” “Please excuse me, I’m not a very good
speaker.” “I hope you’ll overlook my
nervousness.” Apologies are either an insult to the
audience or an invitation not to be taken seriously.
Don’t put yourself and your insecurities up front.
Focus instead on the audience and on your message.
The time and effort you put into crafting a powerful
opening — whichever strategy you choose — will pay off.
It will win you the audience’s attention, respect, and
goodwill. And it will make you feel more confident.
The Witt Communications Newsletter contains advice for
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Also see How to
Plan a Speech.
For information about how Chris Witt can help you become a more
powerful speaker, contact