“Ladies and gentlemen.
I’ve been so nervous about this moment…
…that this is, in fact, the fourth time today I’ve stood up from a warm seat with a damp piece of paper in my hand.”
Yup, it’s that old chestnut. Once upon a time, a long, long, time ago (and possibly in a galaxy far far away) it was quite amusing. To a few members of the audience.
On the plus side it was original, and with half decent wordplay. Sadly, it was also indelicate, and instantly alienated a fair proportion of those listening. Particularly when included in wedding speeches attended by some of the older members of the family.
Then Tim Berners-Lee got to work, and something called the internet made it incredibly easy to share information. People started sharing all sorts of things online. Some of them were legal, and they included a number of jokes that shouldn’t have been.
So a whole host of introductions to speeches found their way online. You’ve probably heard quite a few. Like:
“I’ve been told a good after dinner speech is like being asked to make love to the Queen.
It’s a great honour but no one wants to do it.”
“A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt.
Long enough to cover the essentials, but short enough to keep people interested.”
Again, they were funny once.
Then a little stale.
And now they stink.
We are sent a number of speeches every week. Clients ask for our opinion and we read them all. And when we recognise one of the internet’s most over-used jokes at the very start we can guess what comes next.
Starting a speech matters for so many reasons. It sets the tone. It creates a first impression. It can create an atmosphere of goodwill. Which is why we advise that you ensure it ticks these boxes:
1.Keep it safe. You don’t want to lose your audience before you’ve even got going. Don’t try a risky joke, an obscure reference or an obsequious opening. The key is to keep as many of your audience with you for as long as possible!
2. Keep it informal. Unless you are speaking at a club or society whose traditions require you to follow Debretts etiquette in full, being relaxed and informal will work in your favour. If you start ‘My Lords, ladies and gentlemen’, you immediately create a degree of separation between you and your audience. ‘Good evening everyone’ is so much more welcoming, and more likely to lead to them giving you a cheer.
3. Keep it original. As per the introduction to these tips, don’t use anything you’ve heard elsewhere. If you’ve heard it, it’s likely your audience will have heard it too, and they’ll assume that nothing that follows will be your own work.
4. Keep it punchy. Imagine you are in the audience and the speaker begins with what appears to be a fifty word sentence. Your reaction will bring to mind the scene from Airplane where the passenger sitting next to Ted Striker feels that death would be a blessed relief rather than listen to him any longer. Start as you mean to go on with short, punchy soundbites and a speech that gets to the point fast.
5. Use a hook. Whatever the occasion, it is a great idea to demonstrate early on that this won’t be yet another template-driven speech. A ‘hook’ is a great way to do this. The idea is to grab your audience’s attention by approaching the subject in a way they aren’t expecting. A father of the bride could claim that he has absolutely no intention of spending his time at the microphone talking about his daughter. A golf club captain could begin by addressing ‘all of you who hate golf’. A eulogy could begin with a well-phrased joke. The impact is immediate. People want to hear more – and they will make your life as a speaker much easier.
So many of our clients approach us saying that they are worried about their speech. The more we chat, and the better we get to know them, the clearer it becomes that this fear of public speaking is directly related to their confidence in their own content. The start of the speech is invariably what worries them most. Once that works – and they feel pretty certain that they can deliver it confidently – the nerves start to disappear. Which is why we suggest that when it comes to rehearsing, you spend more than half your time practicing the first minute of your script.
In short, and unless you’re Usain Bolt, the start matters. It shouldn’t be written in isolation as the speech needs to flow seamlessly throughout. But it should be original, and it should fill you with such confidence that you actually start to look forward to delivering it.
If you’d like some help doing just that, including advice on how to start a speech, please call us right away!