The Opening or Introduction of a Speech

Christopher Witt —  July 18, 2012 — 3 Comments

The opening of a speech is, in many ways, its most important part, because it has to achieve so many objectives.

In the first minute or two, you have to capture the audience’s attention and pique their interest. You have to give them the chance to look you over and to decide, unconsciously, whether they like and trust you. And you have to introduce the idea you’ll be developing and give the audience an overview of how you’ll be developing it.

But the opening of a speech is more than a series of objectives to be achieved, because it is, like a speech itself, more than the sum of its parts.

Open DoorThe introductory minute or two of a speech are an open door and an invitation. You are saying to the audience, in effect, “Welcome to my world.” You are ushering them, if not into a new world, at least into a new way—your way—of looking at the world.

“Here is the problem,” you are saying, “or the opportunity, or the need we are facing.” How you name the situation—problem, opportunity, need—is, from the start, your way of describing the world (or a tiny part of it) as you see it and as you want your audience to see it.

You need, of course, to establish yourself as a trustworthy guide, especially if the territory or the topology of what you will be exploring in the rest of your speech is new to them.

I believe that a good speech has one, and only one, overarching metaphor. It might be, say, a journey of discovery. Or the search for a solution. Or the fulfillment of a dream. Or taking up arms against mediocrity, or injustice, or tyranny. Or building a better world (or mousetrap). The metaphor you choose is your way of portraying or of framing the world—the idea—of your speech.

And the opening minutes of a speech must introduce that metaphor. (The conclusion must return to that metaphor, bringing it full circle, but that’s the subject of another post.)

As an example, the metaphor of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is of a nation’s birth, death, and rebirth. His first sentence introduces that metaphor: “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Photo courtesy of Bokur at flickr.com.

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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.

3 responses to The Opening or Introduction of a Speech

  1. Let me begin by saying how very, very happy I am that Chris Witt has a new blog. He is one of the — if not THE — smartest, most astute, most empathetic consultants and coaches in the business.

    Regarding this post, I’d only add one thing. I’d say that a vital element in the beginning of any speech is what I’d call “getting them into the tent.” Why is it important to listeners? What’s in it for them? A lot of speakers begin by addressing the topic, or giving credentials, or making some vast, wise pronouncement. A good speaker has to ask the two key questions — Who cares? and Why bother?

    These are tough questions. When someone asked Billy Wilder how to make a successful film, he said “Make the audience want something and give it to them.” MAKE THE AUDIENCE WANT SOMETHING.

    Look forward to reading every blogpost here.

    • Thanks for the kudos.

      I agree. I think the two questions you always have to answer — in one sentence each — are: 1) What’s your point? and 2) Who cares?

      What are you talking about and how it will help me?

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  1. Public Speaking Tips and Techniques #91 - July 26, 2012

    […] ten bad habits and reveals how you can banish them. (Thanks, Alex!)SpeechwritingChristopher Witt remarks that your speech opening is critical.I believe that a good speech has one, and only one, […]

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