What’s the best way to open a speech? Does it have to be the best joke in your arsenal? How you choose to open a speech often dictates how your audience responds to you. Let’s start with what doesn’t work.

What you don’t want to do

Most people start a speech with, “Hey, everyone. My name is…. and I’m the [insert job title]. I’m going to talk about [insert topic]. Let me tell about [insert topic with little relevance].” Starting with your name, job title, and moving into the deep end of boring is one of the best ways to lose your audience’s attention. This approach is boring because it’s familiar and predictable. Your audience expects it and will naturally look away to check emails or play smartphone games.

Another thing you don’t want to do from the beginning is to turn your back to the audience. When you turn your back to the audience, your audience loses interest in what you want to say. Always try to face the people you are addressing. Eye contact will help you lock in your audience and keep them engaged throughout your presentation. Try to find a different friendly face in the crowd and make eye contact each time you share an idea. Finding a friendly face will help you feel confident in what you are sharing with everyone in attendance.

The truth about your audience is they don’t care about you nearly as much as they care about themselves. Choosing to focus on yourself the entire speech is the biggest mistake you can make and the fastest way to lose your audience. Dale Carnegie said it best when it comes to trying to get other people interested in you. He said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” Show that you are invested in your audience and they will give you the same respect.

What you should do

Say one thing interesting to your audience whether it’s a thought-provoking quote or a story that best illustrates the big idea you want to communicate. You can create and deliver value by sharing information that best answers the questions of your audience. Quotes and stories help you establish authority and validate what you want to say. For example, here are four quotes that can be effective if you are giving a presentation to your sales team on becoming better leaders:

  • True leadership stems from individuality that is honestly and sometimes imperfectly expressed…Leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection.” – Shery Sandberg
  • Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” – Warren Bennis
  • “The best leader is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants to be done, and the self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” – Theodore Roosevelt
  • Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.” – Norman Schwarzkopf

Quotes from more notable individuals such as Theodore Roosevelt will help you gain credibility at a faster rate than people who aren’t as well recognized by your audience. Take time to choose the best quotes that will help you kick off your speech in the best way possible. By being particular about your quote choices, you will be able to find quotes that will resonate with your audience. You can make the focus quote that best communicates your goal as the first slide you will use.

If you choose to start your speech off with a story then use a high-quality photo for your first slide to effectively communicate the feeling you want your audience. Pictures are worth a thousand words and will help your audience remember the main ideas you want to share with them.

A question you can ask yourself is, “Why did my audience choose to give me their time?”. Knowing the answer to this question will help you understand what you can share that will be of most value to them when opening your speech. Address your audience when opening your speech. By making it clear that you are focused on your audience, the rest of your speech should go well with your audience attentive and responsive to your message.

Take action

Now that you know what not to do and what you definitely should do when opening your speech, take action. Take time to pick a memorable quote or an intriguing story to share with your audience at the start of your speech.  Remember to focus on your audience and deliver value from the very beginning. You’ll be able to start off on the right foot and quickly earn the respect of the people you are speaking to.