When thinking about famous speech openers I tend to think of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. He opened with that exact line, “I have a dream.” Why does this opening line stand out so much in so many people’s minds? Because it captured everyone’s attention. Are you struggling with how to open an upcoming speech? Although the setting for your speech may not be on the steps of the Lincoln Monument in front of thousands of marchers, you still need to find some way to capture your audience’s attention.
Martin Luther King, Jr. chose to engage his audience with a powerful yet short statement that he had a dream. It’s simplicity was made up for in the genuine and powerful tone of his voice. It expressed conviction, certainty, and optimism. However, not all speech openers need to convey a powerful and compelling tone. Speech openers can be funny, authoritative, or thought-provoking.
Funny Speech Openers
Begin your speech with a joke. A funny joke will break the ice and the laughter will help you feel more relaxed. However, don’t just assume that beginning with a joke requires nothing more than randomly picking a joke out of your library’s joke book and then delivering it for the first time when you open the speech. You need to make sure that the joke is appropriate, the right length, and – well – funny. For a lengthier discussion on this topic, I suggest Social Signal’s blog on The Art of the Opening Joke.
Authoritative Speech Openers
Quote someone famous. Quoting the words of a famous individual will give you an authoritative springboard from which you can develop and share your own unique thoughts. Someone else’s famous words also works to substantiate the quality of your speech because
- it shows that you spent time preparing the speech or
- that your expertise has come from being familiar with and studying the important figures in your subject matter.
If you need a little help finding some great quotations to use as your speech opener, visit Famous Quotes at BrainyQuotes. They have thousands of quotes categorized by topic, type, and author.
Thought Provoking Speech Openers
Get your audience invested right from the start by asking a question that causes them to measure their own response against the content of your speech. Not only will your question galvanize their focused attention, if effectively played upon in the body of the speech, the speech opener will hold your audience’s attention throughout the entirety of your speech. Much like the quotation, the question informs the speech’s content in that whatever you share should be answering the opening question. Another benefit of this type of speech opener is that the question can appropriately be used as the speech’s conclusion marking that your speech has brought the question full circle.
Speech Openers and Written Content
Given the value of captivating speech openers in delivering a talk, address, or toast, does this also transfer to a written work? The goal of a speech is the same as the goal for writing. That goal is to capture the reader’s attention and immediately invest them in what your piece has to say. The difference between the nature of the two communicative modes lies in the fact that an unsuccessful speech opener can be salvaged by virtue of an audience who has already blocked out the time to hear one talk or by virtue of the fact that one can readjust the speech opener on a speech-by-speech basis. Written content doesn’t enjoy a scheduled audience nor does it enjoy the flexibility of a live speech. Because you need to make sure that a written opener gets it right prior to being released to the public, outsource your written content to professional, content writers. At the very least, you should always make sure to let someone representative of your audience read it before going to print or going live on your website, Facebook page, or email campaign.