Open a speech with a lame joke?

Public Speaking – Five Awful Ways to Open a Speech

The opening of a speech is one of its two most important parts. There are many great ways to begin, and for each great beginning, there is an equally awful opening.

Here are five awful ways to begin a speech:

“Hi there, I’m happy to be here…” Please! This is the most bland, boring, badly overused speech opening. By the time you reach the word “here”, half of your audience is already asleep. The other half is looking at their watches, wondering “When is this going to be over?” Don’t waffle: just start!

“I’m very nervous right now…” Who cares? Why do you think it’s so important for us to know that you haven’t prepared, you haven’t practiced, and you aren’t ready? The audience does not need to know how you feel. When you announce that you aren’t at your best, you are automatically setting expectations that you will be bad. It doesn’t matter how well you perform. If you do the best speech of your life, they will leave while thinking to themselves: “I wonder how much better it would have been if he/she had been feeling good.”

“Did you hear the one about…” Oh boy! Whenever people start their speech with a joke, it’s usually sign that they are just following “public speaking rules.” These “rules” allegedly state that you must start a speech with a joke. The problem is that jokes are rarely related to the topic at hand. They are only there to make people laugh. Nothing wrong with getting people to laugh, as long as it doesn’t seem forced. Otherwise, after the laughter, people will wonder: “What was the point of that joke?”

“Here is a story you all know…” Ugh! The starfish story, anything from Chicken Soup for… any story you received over the Internet, all have the same basic issue: many people have heard it already. Stay away from stories that everyone has told, unless you bring a twist to it. For example, I once heard the story of the tortoise and the hare which contained, not one, not two, but three different endings to the story. Now, that’s a twist!

“The great philosopher A. Nonymous once said…” This is another one of those public speaking “rules”: start with a quote. Avoid this, once again, because it sets up your audience with the wrong expectations. The expectation is the following: this is going to be another boring speech filled with information we already know. Use quotes, just not at the beginning of your speech.

The two most important parts of a speech are the introduction and the conclusion. The introduction sets the tone for your speech, while the conclusion determines how the audience will feel when they leave. Don’t set yourself up for failure from the start: drop these awful openings from your repertoire.

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Laurent Duperval helps professionals become influential communicators. He publishes the “Bring Out The Speaker In You” electronic newsletter, which aims to help readers improve their public speaking and communication skills.

You can reach him at http://www.duperval.com

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