If you’ve ever had any speech training you’ve probably heard the advice, “Tell them what you’re going to say, say it, then tell them what you’ve told them”. While this is technically correct, how you tell them what you’re going to say is critical.

Many beginning speakers open by saying, “Today I am going to talk about… ” Don’t open your speech with a boring opening like this. Instead, try one of the following techniques to open your speech with impact, and get your audiences leaning forward for more.

Tell a story

Opening with a story is one of the best ways to begin your speech. Launch straight into your story. But wait. Make sure it is story drawn from your own experience, or from someone you know or have spoken to. If I were going to give a speech about crime, I could open with a time we had an intruder at a resthome I worked at:

I tried to hold the phone still as I dialled. Why were my hands shaking so much? Finally, I heard the dial tone. Seconds later, I heard someone asking me, “Fire, Ambulance or Police?” “Intruder,” I said.

Or I could tell about the time I was mugged on Queen Street, one night at work, and fought off a number of attackers. Or, if I’m giving a speech about crime, I could open with a story about the time I came home and saw that my unit had been broken into.

I walked up the path to my front door, but something didn’t seem quite right. I couldn’t work out what it was. Then it hit me. The sensor light wasn’t coming on. I began to get that sinking feeling in my stomach. I opened the door and straightaway saw that the kitchen window was broken. I’d been burgled.

Use an interesting statistic

There’s an ad that’s been playing on TV here in NZ recently that uses this approach. It shows a range of products in silhouette, and a voiceover says in a gravelly voice, “There’s a common consumer product which, when used exactly as the manufacturer intended, kills over 50% of its users.” Want to know what product that is? Cigarettes.

Try using a similar approach to bring your statistics alive. Have half the audience stand up, or just one row, or just ‘block out’ one section of the audience with your arms and say,

In NZ, one third of the population will have suffered some form of cancer by the time they are 50. (I just made that figure up. You, of course, will research your speech and have the correct statistics.)

Patricia Fripp, the world’s best speaking coach, admired how Newt Gingrich shared the following statistic. He opened his speech with

If you were born today, you would already owe $186,000 to pay off your share of the national debt.

Use a little known fact

Using a little known fact should arouse curiosity in the audience.

For years you’ve been told that HIV is the cause of AIDS. Today, you’re going to find out why this can’t possibly be true, and why an increasing number of scientists and doctors are saying that HIV is not the cause of AIDS.

Ask a rhetorical question

The problem with asking a question of the audience, is they may not answer, and will leave you hanging. If no one answers, it will look as if no one’s interested. So try a rhetorical question, and then give some possible answers the audience might have.

If I were to ask you, Do you want to make more money? you might say, “No thanks, I make enough”. Or, you might say, “Yes, I’d like to. Can you show me how?”

Make a bold claim or promise

Tell your audience what they will be able to do as a result of hearing your speech.

After this speech, you will be able to create dynamic openings for your speeches by choosing from at least seven different opening methods.

Or, if I were giving a speech on how to begin selling on Trade Me or eBay, I could say

In the next ten minutes, you will learn my seven most important tips for success at online auctions, and you will also learn where to go to source hundreds of wholesale products to get you started.

Give the stated purpose, or hoped for outcome

One of the members of my Toastmasters club, who is a volunteer fire fighter, gave a speech about fire extinguishers and how to use them. One of many openings he could have used:

By the end of this presentation, you will understand how fires start and burn, and you will be able to identify three types of fire, and which class of fire extinguisher to use for each type of fire.

Or, if I were teaching people how to give a best man speech, I could say

By the end of this presentation, you will be able to confidently research, prepare and deliver an hilarious best man speech

Transport your audience to a different time or place

Take your audience back in time to an event or experience you want to share. The words you use:

Come back with me…

I wish you could have been there…

If you had been there with me when… you would have seen…

Imagine… Imagine you were with me as a ten year old when, for the first time, I…

For example

Imagine you were with me ten years ago one July evening as I walked into a hall, got up in front of fifty other people and said, “Hi, my name is John, and I’m an alcoholic.”

One final tip: Use a “you”-focus

Take a look at the example introductions above. Most of them will have the word “you” in them, which gives you a stronger connection to your audience. It is better to talk about them than about yourself. Don’t say, “I am going to talk about… ” or “I am going to share some tips… ” When you speak, your audience is thinking, “What’s in it for me?” So tell them! “You are going to receive this… ” or “You will be able to do that… “

Now go and take another look at the draft of that speech you are working on, and think how you can improve the opening by using one of the techniques above. And remember to use a you-focus when talking to your audience.