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Effective Public Speaking: How to Start and End a Speech

Author: Conor NeillTime: 2024-01-03 10:15:00

Table of Contents

Introduction to Public Speaking: Best Practices for Starting a Speech Effectively

One of the most important parts of giving a great speech is how you start it. Many speakers make the mistake of opening with tired, ineffective intros that signal to the audience that they can tune out. But there are more compelling ways to start that grab attention and prime the audience to fully engage.

As renowned public speaking expert Connor Neal explains, the three most common ways speakers incorrectly start speeches are: repeating logistical information the audience already knows, awkwardly checking equipment and timing details, or lacking confidence and presence. These openings fail to connect with audiences emotionally or intrigue them to hear more.

Common Ways Speakers Start a Speech (And Why They Don't Work)

The first ineffective approach Neal highlights is when speakers state obvious logistical details, such as: "My name is Connor Neal, I'm from Company X, and I'm going to talk about Topic Y." The audience already knows these basic facts from the conference program. So reiterating them signals that the speech will not contain anything new or thought-provoking. Speakers also often start out by clumsily checking equipment and timing details, such as asking "Is the microphone on?" or "How much time do I have?". While understandable, this makes audiences question if the speaker is truly prepared and skilled enough to deliver valuable insights. Finally, lacking confidence and presence is another poor way to start out. Audiences expect speakers to command attention right away as subject matter experts. Seeming nervous or disorganized fails to establish credibility.

Best Practices for Starting a Speech Effectively

So what are some better strategies for opening a speech? Neal highlights three techniques that work: First, start with an intriguing question relevant to the speech's topic. Making the audience think gets them interested in hearing the answer later on. Second, open with a fascinating fact or statistic that surprises the audience and gets them reconsidering assumptions on the topic. But the very best way is to start with a quick, captivating personal story or anecdote. As Neal explains, saying "Let me tell you about something that happened to me..." signals that a story is coming just like beginning a storytime for a child. It grabs the audience's attention and emotional investment straight away.

Using Storytelling Techniques to Engage Your Audience

Once you have the audience hooked from the opening story, skillfully weaving in additional stories throughout the speech is key to maintaining engagement and connection.

As veteran speaker Connor Neal points out, stories help audiences relate to speakers as real people rather than distant experts. Stories show the humanity, motivation, and experiences behind why the speaker truly cares about the speech topic.

Connecting with Your Audience Through Shared Experiences

The most powerful stories are those your audience can personally identify with. Look for experiences, challenges, desires, and perspectives you genuinely share with the listeners.

For example, at a conference focused on improving quality of life through technology, the audience will connect best with stories about your own desires for quality of life. What does it mean to you? When have you sacrificed other priorities to achieve it?

Tapping into these shared experiences, motivations, and struggles builds rapport and trust between speaker and audience.

Using Personal Stories to Build Trust and Credibility

Of course, sharing intimate stories has risks too. Audiences may disengage if speakers overshare, dominate the speech with too many tangents, or lack the vulnerability and authenticity to pull it off.

That's why Neal stresses that personal stories must clearly connect to why you or your organization cares so strongly about the speech topic. When audiences see genuine emotion and purpose behind your work, it builds credibility.

And rather than just bolstering your own reputation, make sure the stories ultimately highlight the great work of colleagues, customers, or partners as well. This shares credit and shows you are focused on the shared mission.

Key Takeaways for Giving a Memorable Speech

In summary, some top lessons for kickstarting an engaging, story-driven speech include:

  • Open with a compelling personal anecdote instead of tired logistical introductions

  • Use additional stories throughout your speech to build an emotional bridge to audiences

  • Tap into experiences and perspectives listeners can relate to

  • Back stories with authenticity, vulnerability and purpose to strengthen your credibility

Conclusion and Final Thoughts

While facts and practical arguments are important in speeches, it is the human connections and stories that ultimately convince audiences to care and act. As communications expert Connor Neal says, no matter how strong your reasonings and points come across on paper, audiences must first relate to and trust you as a genuine person.

So start with an intriguing opening story, build rapport through shared experiences, back it up with authenticity of purpose, and make sure the focus stays on serving the audience. Master these techniques for unforgettable speeches that motivate and resonate.


Q: What are some common ways speakers start a speech?
A: Common ineffective ways to start a speech include repeating information the audience already knows, making comments about equipment or time constraints, or launching right into a topic without first engaging the audience.

Q: What is the best way to start a speech?
A: The most effective way to start a speech is by asking a relevant question, stating an interesting factoid, or using storytelling elements that draw the audience in similar to starting a story for a child with "Once upon a time".

Q: How can storytelling help engage an audience?
A: Storytelling allows a speaker to connect with the audience on a more personal, emotional level. Stories focused on people rather than objects or things help the audience relate to and care about the topic.

Q: Why share personal stories when speaking?
A: By sharing relevant personal stories and experiences, a speaker builds trust and credibility with their audience. This helps the audience become more open and persuaded by the speaker's message.

Q: What are key takeaways for giving a great speech?
A: Key takeaways include using storytelling elements, connecting with the audience through shared experiences, using personal stories to establish trust, and focusing on how your content impacts people rather than just stating facts.