101 Ways to Open a Speech

Brad Phillips

One of the aspects of being a good manager or leader is to be able to train and share ideas with your staff to help them grow.  I do this routinely such as in a two-hour once a month staff meeting.  For example I recently finished presenting The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, which involved learning new terminology, participating in planned exercises, providing opportunities to share and grow, and giving them time to let it absorb and put it into practice.  I did this over a 5 month period.  It was a lot of time, but given the culture here, it was necessary.


In those 5 months, I did see growth. I won’t lie and say it was not rough at times, much like the fable in the book, there were times I wanted to give up.  But after the 3rd meeting I got one person to share their appreciation of it and that was the spark I needed to keep going.


But one of the challenges I had, or weak areas I know of myself, was not having relevant and interesting stories in order to get my audience engaged and most importantly to allow them to relate the story to the new concepts I was presenting and wanting to become part of our nature processes and culture.


Thus, I embarked on a journey to research how I could help my story telling to help those in attendance to better relate.  I know with experience that once we relate and picture it in our minds, the concepts and meanings become a bigger impact and we actually learn versus just memorizing.


I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it.  It helped me and I continue to utilize the concepts from the book to keep expanding my knowledge and my menu of stories to help keep my audience engaged and riveted (ok, maybe just keep them from falling asleep).  There is a tremendous amount of helpful tips and ideas, don’t feel like you have to do it all at once.  Use a few and fine tune your presentations so they become something people remember and talk about at the water cooler.


Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.  The book gave me a lot of ideas and things to think about and explore.


Here are my nuggets of learning or “i power seeds“:

Ask yourself, can your audience form an accurate impression of you in just two seconds? First impressions are so important and you want to hook them right off the bat.


People tend to remember the words they hear at the beginning more than the words they heard in the middle. Such as you remember the area code more than the last four digits in a phone number.


Key point – get them into a tent and ask yourself what is your “bright shiny object”. He offers this image often and it makes really good sense. Figure out what you want to present as the “bright shiny object” that will get them in the tent.


The format for this part of the post-opening is a short audience-focused agenda item followed by a statement of the bright shiny object. Declaring your goal from the start also sends a clear message to your audience about their role in your presentation.


Below are some of the way he shares to grab and retain the audience. I have already used many of them.


Audience Benefit – how will what you are offering will help? Such as you might ask, “By the end of class today you will…” We know in consulting, to engage a customer we need to show them how we can help them, not just tell them what we have to offer. We all want to know “what’s in it for me.”


Another important point the author points out is to ensure you have Common Ground. Such as in your presentation say something like, “And to the C students, I say to you, you too can be president of the United States.”


Audience Praise – praise at the beginning of a talk sounds like flattery, whereas the same praise wedged into the middle of the speech comes off as sincerity.


Stories are powerful tools, whereas audiences don’t like to be lectured at as it feels overbearing.


Personal Open – presenters reveal something of themselves. This shows humility and vulnerability which helps open the hearts and minds of those within the audience.


Descriptive Reveal – paints a vivid picture. Incorporate vivid words to paint a vivid picture.


Fable Open – a fable is a short story, usually told through animals, that contains a moral lesson at the end. If you want some ideas, search on the Internet “fable” examples”. Some well-known ones are the Tortoise and the Hare, The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, etc.


Analogy Open – In order to overcome their objections, the volunteers drew an opening parallel (a comparison between two things) to something the law-makers were already familiar with – again so they can relate. Also, another example is when we heard arguments from auto manufacturers who told and ensured us we didn’t need air bags because cars already had seat belts – that we were safe and sound. It got the audience’s attention.


Metaphor Open – A metaphor is a comparison of one action or object to a symbolically similar but literally different second action or object. Metaphors are more persuasive than literal statements and that the use one consistent metaphor increases persuasion. These are very useful and have a lasting impact.


Allegory Open – A story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning typically a moral or political one. A story about aliens who find themselves isolated and alone in a strange new world can be an allegory for what immigrants experience in a new country.


Surprising Statistic Open – which uses a broader framing. Tell a story the audience can relate to, use some statistics that might provide a “wow” moment. For example something like this, “The fastest growing demographic on Twitter is the 55–64 year age bracket.” The stat would make the audience stop, think about it, and be amazed.


Unexpected Definition – Redefining terms can have an oversize impact on your audience. An example such as “stay at home parents” – it really is “on the run parents” from all the running around to soccer games, picking kids up, etc.


Odd Ball Fact – Google “strange facts”. Such as, “people can suffer from a psychological disorder called Boanthropy that makes them believe that they are a cow. They try to live their life as a cow.”


Newscaster Tease – deliver a compelling tease – such as “I will tell you about it in a bit.” this is great to do at the beginning to get them to instantly pay attention but then stay alert to eventually hear the data or story.


Bookend Open – something like, “let’s go back 150 years” and then use words like sparks flew, shutdown happened, etc.


In the News Open – take an old story and add new catchy openers or leads – those additions help make their reports feel up to date giving audiences new reason to tune in.


Just Happened Open – Perhaps a previous speaker mentioned a statistic that reinforces your main message. Add that to your presentation as that helps audiences feel you were listening and they pay more attention. And shows you can think quickly on your feet.


This Day in History – give events in history – Google “today events in history” and use some of the facts from the results.


Chronology Contrast Open – Contrast is a very powerful and often unrecognized element in creating a compelling story. It creates both tension and interest. Like a great movie having a hero and a villain keeps you interested and engaged. A great movie always has a great hero and villain.


Incorrect Quote – you can invoke irony or humor. A wonderful example from an 1876 Western Union Internal memo – “The telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communications. The device is inherently of no value to us.” Another example came from a 1995 Newsweek article titled, “The Internet? Bah!” – says it was baloney.


The Big Picture Open – It focuses solely on what the organization is. In the big picture open, you’ll focus first on why your work matters. Audience members need to be thinking, “Why should I care about this?” it is always about why it impacts them.


The Small Detail Open – the “small” detail you select for your talk can be a physical object (like a plate) a seemingly inconsequential piece of data (that you will show contains a great deal of importance), or in a single work or phrase in a much longer document that reveals in some meaningful way a hidden truth.


Mnemonic Device – an example might be, “Please Do Not Throw Away Sausage Pizzas” for the 7 levels of the OSI Model.


Visual Mnemonic Open – Open with a visual representation of the points you hope the audience will remember from your talk. Such as a stool with the legs being parts of the message and the seat as the main point. Visuals always help.


Cliffhanger Open – I’ll share that question – and give you an opportunity to answer it – in a few minutes.”


Mystery Open – create new curiosity. Provide a story to get them intrigued.


My Friend Open – Many people use this device by talking about their “friend” only to later reveal that they are actually speaking about themselves. It can also be used to reveal a person other than yourself, such as a parent, friend, co-worker, or child.


Since I’ve Started Speaking Open – remember you want to get the audience into the tent quickly. Use a story or stats such as “Since I started speaking just 60 seconds ago, six people have died because they used tobacco. (Go silent for nine seconds). (then say) “In that nine second silence, someone else just died.” A little morbid, but it grabs their attention and demonstrates your point.


The Challenge Open – call to action – give them a challenge. I use this often and also at the end so the next time we meet they can report back. This keeps them thinking about your point over that period of time.


Negative Picture Open – People seem to be more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of equal value. An example might be having them think about giving up their favorite food or drink.


Multiple Rhetorical Questions Open – Such as a story of a plane going down and the passengers knew it the entire time. The pose the question, “Did they lock hands with their loved ones? Did they hold their children close to their hearts? Did they look each other in the eyes one final time in a wordless goodbye?” Very impactful.


Hypothetical Scenario Open – After a story ask, “What would you do in this situation?”


Puzzle Open – the speaker could write numbers on the board before the presentation begins so audience members see them upon entering the room, but then wait to reveal their meaning until the end of the open.


Diagnostic Questions Open – speakers relax once they interact with the audience. That begs a questions: why not interact with the audience from the very beginning? Such as simple thing, but many of us don’t know this tactic.


Volunteer Open – ask a volunteer to come up on stage. Make them look good.


Humorous Open – make sure the humor ties directly to your message.


PowerPoint Open – PPT can be boring more than seeing the speaker begin by clicking to a cluttered slide. Use simple items and explain or talk more than use slides.


Visual Open – there are many other ways to use visuals during the opening of a presentation – use a photograph, a chart on poster-board, product sample or scientific specimen.


Voice Over Open – say something like, “Kate is based in Nashville.” Give example of her and have it tied to your message and then say, “now multiply Kate by 50 people. That’s who’s in your room.”


“Shout it Out!” Open – as an example the presented might say, “I want you to shout out a brand name as loudly as you possible can! The clock begins….NOW!” Maybe have things behind hidden and blank paper to turn them over when ready. Almost like a game show – it keeps you hooked as you want to see what is hidden behind the pieces of paper.


The Bad Open – don’t begin by telling the audience how nervous you are or by issuing an apology for your imperfect speaking skills. Don’t begin by saying things such as “I know it’s early and you are probably tired” or “I know it was a late night for many of you last night so I will try and keep things lively.” Putting a fine point on their fatigue is not only clichéd but also calls more attention to it.


From Amazon

The opening moments of a presentation are critical to its overall success. People form opinions about speakers quickly, and once they do, their first impressions can prove difficult to reverse. A strong beginning gives audiences confidence that you’re going to deliver a message worth hearing, and takes advantage of your presentation’s opening minutes, when listener attention is at its peak.


This book will introduce you to a broad range of speech starters, using dozens of real-life examples and original suggestions. You will find opens intended to surprise, persuade, motivate, engage, and amuse your audiences. Some tell a story, others help frame your topic, and a few rely on modern technology.


In 101 Ways to Open a Speech, you will learn:


* How to captivate your audience from your first words
* Why there are actually three opens for every speech
* How to select the right open for every occasion
* How to connect your open to your speech topic
* How not to begin a presentation


101 Ways to Open a Speech is the first and only in-depth book to focus solely on the open itself, and is an indispensable desktop reference for everyone who ever presents to any audience.



Here is a very brief video to highlight one of Brad’s points:

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