The Art of Speaking  

When speaking in public, hook your audience from the start

Start speaking with impact

YouTube Wade Paterson

I have less than eight seconds to capture your attention with this month’s column.

In fact, you’re probably already considering clicking away from this article and reading one of the many intriguing headlines Castanet is offering you up at this very moment.

As speakers, we have approximately the same amount of time to capture an audience’s attention when delivering a speech. Therefore, it’s essential you hook your audience right from the start.

This month, I’m going to provide you with four ways to deliver a powerful introduction as part of your next speaking opportunity.

What not to do

Before I share four powerful speech introductions, let’s talk about what not to do when speaking in front of an audience.

The first thing to avoid is being surprised by the volume of the microphone. You’ve probably seen this many times before—an amateur speaker grabs the microphone, begins talking and then says, “Whoa, that’s loud!”

Of course it’s loud, it’s a microphone! To avoid doing this, see if you can do a mic test prior to giving your speech so you familiarize yourself with having your voice amplified.

The second thing to avoid is doing the standard introduction—“Hi everyone, my name is Wade Paterson and I’m the best man at this wedding.”

By wasting the first few moments of your speech with an unnecessary introduction, you’re taking away the opportunity to capture your audience’s attention. You’ve probably already been introduced by the MC of the event, so there is no need to waste any time saying your name; rather, dive right into the great content.

Hit your audience with a powerful statistic

“Eighty per cent of videos on social media, are viewed without the sound on.”

“Only 13% of employees say they actually feel engaged at the workplace.”

“The average human attention span is eight seconds.”

Each of those statistics is powerful, surprising and set the tone for what the speech is going to be about.

By delivering a powerful statistic as the first sentence of your speech, it disrupts the norm. As mentioned earlier, most speakers start by introducing themselves, but if you walk on stage and hit your audience with a powerful stat, they are going to be drawn into your speech right from the beginning.

If you decide to use a statistic as part of your speech introduction, ensure you know the source of the data and that the stat is accurate. And only use a fact or figure that is relevant to the rest of your speech.

Ask a thought-provoking question

“Are you happy?”

“What does success mean to you?”

“If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?”

Starting your speech with a thought-provoking question forces your audience to use their brains immediately and think about how they would answer the question. By engaging your audience this way early, they are more likely to stay focused throughout your entire speech.

Similar to the previous tip, make sure the question you ask is relevant to the overall theme of the presentation.

Tell a story

Storytelling is one of the most powerful tools we have as public speakers.

By jumping into a story with the first sentence of our speech, we immediately tap into our audience’s imagination as they visualize what we’re describing from the stage.

I’ve seen many speakers tell stories midway through their speech, which is completely fine, but by starting your speech with a story, you have the chance to do something very original and draw your audience deep into your message in a way they’ll remember.

Bonus points if your story is humourous. If you can get the audience to laugh early on, they will relax and pay closer attention throughout the entire speech. And you will relax and gain confidence knowing the audience is enjoying themselves.

Do something unique

My favourite speech introduction is by Sarah Kay, with her TED Talk: If I should have a daughter.

Sarah opens her speech by reciting a poem, which lasts about three minutes and 30 seconds. When she says the final words of her poem, the entire audience rises to their feet and gives Sarah a standing ovation.

Because Sarah’s approach is so unique, there’s a bit of healthy tension that’s built up during those first three-and-a-half minutes. You can tell the audience is initially unsure how to react. But as Sarah confidently continues, she draws her audience in deeper and deeper.

For those of us who aren’t poets, there are other ways we can do something unique. If you’re musically inclined, you could start your speech by singing part of a song, or playing an instrument (as long as it can be tied into the overall message of your presentation). I’ve even seen speakers start their sessions by doing a magic trick, or painting a picture while they talk.

If you have a creative talent, consider tapping into it as part of your presentation.

As a bonus tip, a powerful way to conclude your speech is by making it come full circle.

For example, if you delivered a powerful statistic as part of your introduction, consider repeating that tip as part of your conclusion, while summarizing the points you gave in your speech. If you opened with a question, ask that question again, but perhaps tweak it based on the information you provided in your presentation. If you told a story, end your speech by referencing that story once again.

Speeches that come full circle have an impactful cohesiveness, and make the audience feel as though you’ve taken them on a fascinating journey.

If you’re thinking about joining Toastmasters to improve your public speaking skills, our Kelowna AM Toastmasters Club is always looking for new members.

If you’re interested in learning more about Impactful Communication, subscribe to my YouTube channel.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Wade Paterson is an award-winning Toastmaster who is passionate about Impactful Communication.

His columns and accompanying YouTube videos are focused on helping others become more confident public speakers and communicators.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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