An Opening Remark is the first sentence, phrase, or paragraph you utter at the beginning of your speech or presentation. Opening Remarks determine whether or not the audience will be intrigued enough to sit through the rest of your talk. The main purposes of opening remarks can be summed up as follows:
- Captures the attention of the audience
- Sets the overall tone and theme for your talk
- Introduces the situation/problem at hand
Here’s the game plan for this article:
- How to Write Opening Remarks? (Basic Guidelines)
- 10 Types of ‘Interesting’ Opening Remarks
- How to Craft Opening Remarks for Different Scenarios?
- In Conclusion
Even after reading this, you might wonder, ‘Why is it important for me to focus upon opening remarks?’ After all, it’s just a part of the overall structure of your talk, right?
Now, let me ask you something!
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where the moment a speaker started delivering his talk, you immediately felt disconnected and just couldn’t pay attention to it?
Soon, you began to yawn and decided to check up on the people sitting beside you but surprisingly, you found them staring at their wristwatches waiting for the talk to get over.
Most likely the reason is that the speaker forgot to pay attention to his/her opening remarks and because of this very reason, failed at capturing the audience’s attention. So, ask yourself, ‘Do you wish to be that speaker?’ NO, right?
Before I dive into the Complete Guide on ‘What to Say in Opening Remarks?’, let’s first discuss a few guidelines that you must keep in mind while crafting your introductory remarks!
How to Write Opening Remarks? (Basic Guidelines)
1. Time Limit of Opening Remarks
An opening remark can cover 10-15% of the total duration of your talk. For example, if you are delivering a 7-minute long talk, your opening remark must last for at least a minute.
2. Audience Expectations from Opening Remarks
Let’s face it- every single time, we listen to a strong introduction, we ponder ‘How did the speaker do it effortlessly?’
Well, my friend, the secret lies in thinking from the audience’s perspective! (a crucial step that most of the speakers skip)
This is the only way to figure out what will work in your opening remarks. So, ask yourself,
- If I were the speaker, would I care about the situation/issue at hand after listening to this opening remark?
- Does this opening remark intrigue me enough to hear the rest of the talk with all my interest?
3. Do’s and Don’ts of Opening Remarks
While each situation/issue is different, there are certain Do’s and Don’t’s of opening remarks that you need to keep in mind to not make your audience snooze on you! Because come on, we don’t wish to be those boring monotonous speakers!
Do’s of Opening Remarks
Serve A Sneak-Peek
Remember how the trailer of any movie gives you an idea of what the movie is about but doesn’t give all the information to make you curious enough for the remainder of the movie? That’s exactly what we need to do here!
At the beginning of your speech, provide the audience an idea about the theme of your talk but don’t give it all in!
Give them questions to ponder over! After listening to your opening remarks, your audience should go like, ‘Umm, that’s interesting! Tell me more about it!’ But how do you do that? Keep an eye out for the section in this article where we talk about interesting ways to begin your speech.
Now that you have your audience’s attention, your mission now is to make them trust you!
Because admit it, for the audience to truly believe your arguments, they must first trust you!
Consider thinking from your audience’s perspective and ask yourself, ‘What aspect of my life would relate the most with my audience and the theme of my talk?’ Once you have got your answer, narrate that personal anecdote! (Don’t go on blabbering, keep it short and sweet!)
Make Eye Contact and Smile
This is pretty self-explanatory! You would any day prefer a speaker who is smiling and seems confident as opposed to someone who has a serious face on with a monotonous voice.
So, remember to maintain eye contact (but not stare at them!) to make your audience feel like you are talking to them and not at them. But if you are afraid of maintaining eye contact, here a few things that you can try out:
- Consider looking at objects instead of people. You could look at the spaces between the chair or the wall towards the end of the room.
- If you have a bunch of friends sitting in the audience, convince them to scatter around at different junctures and you can look at them while delivering your speech.
Lastly, put on a smile if your speech topic calls for it (If it’s a sad topic, don’t smile, obviously!).
Don’t’s of Opening Remarks
Bid ‘Goodbye’ to a Bland ‘Good Morning’
Starting your speech with a plain ‘Good Morning’ is by far the most mundane way and doesn’t really add to the listening experience of your audience.
After listening to a bland ‘Good Morning’, they would most likely go like, ‘Ah, here we go again!’ and we don’t want our audience members to think that way! So, put on your creativity hat and make your introductory remarks interesting!
Don’t Be TOO Creative
As discussed in the previous section, we wish to be creative but not too creative. Let me tell you why! We focus so much on making our introduction creative that we incorporate too many interesting elements, adjectives, and idioms-all of these together confuse the audience. We need to strike a balance between creativity and simplicity.
For example, if you are talking about ‘Why more people are watching dark content these days?’ Don’t start your speech narrating the emergence of OTT Platforms, it’s too broad! Instead, prefer narrating a personalized story of binge-watching dark content.
Don’t Keep your Introductory Remarks TOO Long
Avoid crafting an opening remark which is too long, stick to the time limit guidelines we discussed in one of the previous sections of this article. Keeping our opening remarks too long can bore our audience members to sleep and as a result, they might lose all their interest!
10 Types of ‘Interesting’ Opening Remarks
A strong speech introduction serves two purposes:
- Provides a gist of the theme
- Makes the audience intrigued for the remainder of the speech
Below-mentioned is the list of 10 best ways to write a strong introduction without sounding boring:
1. Shock them with Statistics
How to Begin your Speech with Statistics?
Starting your speech by throwing in some statistics, be it positive or negative, can help you capture your audience’s attention. Here’s how:
- Throw in a question regarding the fact by asking for a show of hands
- Now, present the fact
- Answer the question yourself by connecting it to the theme of your talk
Example of a Statistical Opening Remark
In this TED Talk, Dr. Tharoor uses statistics to arise the curiosity of his audience members using the exact method that I stated above. Check out the video to understand it better!
How many of you here are under 35? Okay, that seems pretty representative of the country; 65% of India is under 35.
How many of you are under 25? Okay. Then you are not so representative because we have half of the Indian population pretty much under 25. We are an amazingly young country!
Now, this is just one way of presenting the fact in an interesting way. Well, we have written an entire article on ’11 Unique Ways to Present Facts Without Sounding Boring’. So, make sure you check it out!
2. Props and Placards
Instead of simply coming on to the stage and start speaking, shock your audience by doing something different. We all love surprises and with the right props and placards, you can get your audience interested for the entire duration of your speech.
How to Start your Talk with Prop/Placard?
No technical rules here! Put on your creativity hat and think ‘What Prop can you bring onto the stage which will relate to the theme of your talk?’ Once you have got your potential answers, ask yourself, ‘Which prop is the most convenient yet effective?’ Then, bring that prop onto the stage.
Hold on, don’t just present your prop! Use it as a guiding light to present the theme of your talk in a really engaging manner.
Example of Opening Remark involving Use of Prop
Let’s assume that you are delivering a talk on ‘Walking the Pathways of Sustainability with Old Modes of Transportation.’ This time, instead of simply starting to talk, you can enter the stage riding a bicycle!
Sounds interesting, right? (I’m sure your audience would find this to be intriguing too!)
Now, get off that bicycle, and speak about the theme of your talk by building a connection with that bicycle. This way, the audience would remember your theme nicely and be intrigued for the rest of your talk as well.
To witness the application of this technique in action, watch this TEDTalk by Hans Rosling on ‘The Magic Washing Machine’. Hans Rosling brings a washing machine on stage to illustrate his point. Here’s how:
I was only a four years old when I saw my mother load a washing machine for the very first time in her life…
3. The Potential of A Promise
An irresistible promise would lure the audience in towards your speech in the hope of wanting to know more and that’s what you aim for, right?
But while you are at it, please make a point not to overpromise or exaggerate because this will hurt your credibility as a speaker and make the audience lose all their interest.
How to Present an Irresistible Promise in the Opening Remarks?
Step 1: Keep your opening statement something as simple like ‘Today, I’m about to tell you the secret to…’
Step 2: As a continuation of this statement, tell your audience what your secret is all about? For example, ‘Today, I’m about to tell you the secret to maintaining a healthy diet without losing out on junk food.’
Step 3: Now, don’t reveal your secret in the opening remarks itself. Wait till the body of your talk to reveal your secret!
Example of an Irresistible Promise
So, I know the secret to getting anything you want in life.
Allow me to ask you, ‘Are you intrigued after listening to her statement?’ (At least I am) But your task as a speaker doesn’t get over here, look at this video to see how she presents this secret and structure her talk to be all the more persuasive.
4. Sing A Song
No, I’m not kidding! I mean it. Public Speaking is not just about simply speaking, your task as an orator is to inform as well as engage your audience.
And what’s a better way to engage your audience than singing a song?
Now, if you are not at all confident about your singing skills, don’t go for it! Go for any of the remaining 9 techniques but if you are a decent singer, I’d suggest that you go for it! After all, no one’s judging you, all you need to do is present your idea effectively!
How to Incorporate A Song in Your Opening Remarks?
Step 1: Pick a song, yes! There are two ways here: Either you can go for a song which you can disagree with while presenting the theme of your talk or you can go choose a song to agree with.
Step 2: Once you have a song that resonates with your theme in one way or the other, pick up a stanza (Don’t go for more than 2-4 lines here). Ideally, prefer picking the lines which you can directly relate with your theme and at the same time, the lines are popular enough for the audience to recall the song.
Step 3: Sing the song, tell if you agree or disagree, and then, present your theme in the follow-up statement
Example of Opening Remark involving Use of Song
The stars in the sky remind me why I live by love and I dream the future is bright as I look towards the sky. I live by love and I dream…
In this TED Talk, Kamica sings a song that talks about how music heals a soul and acts as a therapist. This, by the way, was also the theme of the talk she delivered. Check out this video to know in detail how exactly she effectively conveyed her theme in the opening remark- all because of a song!
5. Strike the Minds with A Startling Statement
What do I mean by this, you ask? You need to present an unpopular thought as our opening sentence, something that stands in opposition to the general belief of the public.
When you do this right, your audience will be intrigued to know more about how you defend this thought and that’s all what you are looking for- their undivided attention!
How to Write A Startling Opening Remark?
While deciding on this startling opening remark, ask yourself the following questions:
- What is the unpopular opinion about the topic I am about to speak on?
- Is the unpopular opinion startling yet believable?
- If I were to listen to this thought, would my reaction be, ‘Hold on, what did he just say?’
Example of A Startling Opening Remark
Hi, my name is Frank and I collect secrets.
Intriguing, isn’t it? That’s how Frank Warrren started his TEDTalk, ‘Half A Million Secrets’. Look at it!
6. Influence with Imagination
We all love day-dreaming! So, why not use it to our advantage?
Present a step-by-step chain of thoughts for the audience to follow and let them immerse in that reality. For this to truly work, make sure that your description is vivid to control your audience’s thoughts.
How to Use the Hook of Imagination?
Step 1: First things first, decide on the emotion you wish to channel- Is it positive or negative? My suggestion would be to go for negative emotion since it is comparatively more powerful. Having mentioned this, present a scenario of “what will happen if the audience chooses not to listen to you?” Tell them what they have in store to lose.
Step 2: Next, present a series of thoughts (in the order of progression) for the audience to follow.
Step 3: Throw in a question at the audience. If you are channeling the negative emotion, ask something scary like, “Would you prefer being in such a scary situation? No, right?” Similarly, while channeling the positive emotion, ask something optimistic like, “You enjoyed that, didn’t you? So, how can we sustain this in reality?”
Example of Thought-Provoking Opening Remark
Let’s take an example of Ric Elias TED Talk where he channels the negative emotion with the help of his powerful imagination by narrating a story of a plane crash. Look at how he builds up this piece of imagination.
Imagine a big explosion as you climb through 3,000 ft. Imagine a plane full of smoke. Imagine an engine going clack, clack, clack. It sounds scary. Well I had a unique seat that day. I was sitting in 1D.
7. What if we use the “What If Scenario”?
Present an opportunity towards the audience to think with you and not think for you.
This ‘What if’ hook will bring both you and your audience on the same page. Once this is done, with the help of powerful storytelling as the next step, you can make the audience buy your thoughts in a structured manner.
How to Use the ‘What If’ Scenario?
Open up your talk with the phrase ‘what if’ and follow it up with a question.
One thing to keep in mind here is that your question should not reflect an existing reality but present a conflicting thought that challenges the existing perception of the public.
This way, the audience would truly ponder over your question and when they do, wait for some time and then, answer that question by yourself. Trust me, the audience will be more inclined to believe you!
Example of ‘What If’ Opening Remark
To witness this technique in action, watch this TED Talk where Cynthia Thurlow asks her audience a thought-provoking question regarding our daily meals.
What if I told that breakfast being ‘the most important meal of the day’ was wrong?
8. Optimize that Outfit!
There’s no rocket science here! If your topic is closely related to a culture or even a place for that matter, the best bet is to wear that representative outfit to stand out.
How to Connect your Outfit with Opening Remark?
Before you dive into this method, cross-check with the event administration regarding dress code specifications. If no specifics are given and you have a theme wherein you can pull off a unique outfit, GO FOR IT!
Example of Opening Remarks involving Outfit
While representing Bhutan’s steps towards sustainability, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay decided to wear a traditional outfit to represent his country in its truest essence. Watch this TED Talk to know how he connects his outfit with the overall theme of the talk.
In case you are wondering, No, I’m not wearing a dress and no, I’m not saying what I’m wearing underneath. This is a gho. This is my national dress.
9. The Strength of Storytelling
Be it real or fictional- we all love listening to gripping stories. Do you have a personal anecdote to share? Awesome! If not, there’s nothing to worry about.
You can craft your own story as well or narrate a friend’s story too. But one thing to remember here is that our stories should hold realism. Don’t go too overboard because if the audience gets a hint of exaggeration, they might not believe you!
How to Include A Story in Opening Remark?
Mountain Curve is by far one of the most popular techniques to narrate a gripping story! Here’s how:
Begin with establishing the setting and then, slowly work linearly towards the climax of the story (the key challenge/problem). Once you have reached the stage of climax, focus on the step-by-step resolution of that conflict (solution).
Want to know about more ways of effective storytelling? We have written an entire article on ‘9 Storytelling Methods for your Upcoming Presentation’. Go check it out!
Example of Tell-tale Opening Remark
Watch this TED Talk as the orator Michael narrates a camping story and relates it with the theme of his talk, ‘Why renewables can’t save the planet?’.
When I was a boy, my parents would sometimes take me camping in California…
10. Propose A Problem
Remember how every movie begins with introducing a problem and focusing the entire narrative towards solving that one problem? That’s exactly what needs to be done here!
How to Introduce A Problem in the Opening Remark?
What’s that one related problem that you are addressing in the theme of your talk? Once you have identified this problem, use the call and response technique to prove the viability of that problem in front of your audience.
But hold on, ‘What is the call and response method?’ Here’s how it works:
- Throw a close-ended question towards your audience and ask them for a show of hands
- Analyze the response you get through the show of hands. Consider this as a direction to structure the remainder of your talk.
Once you have got your desired response through the show of hands, mold your rest of the talk towards solving that problem and give your audience a key takeaway!
Example of An Interrogative Opening Remark
While delivering a TEDTalk on ‘What makes a good life?’, Robert Waldinger begins his talk by proposing a problem. Here’s how!
What keeps us healthy and life as we go through life?
If you were going to invest, in your future self, where would you put your time and energy?
Looking out for some more examples and inspiration to craft a strong opening remark? We have written an article highlighting 15 Best Speech Opening Examples and How to Use Them? Do check it out.
How to Craft Opening Remarks for Different Scenarios?
Even after reading about all these tips, I’m sure you must be wondering, ‘How do I decide on which technique to use?’
Don’t worry! I’m listing down a few scenarios along with the techniques which work the best there. So, let’s dive in!
1. Writing Opening Remarks for Meetings/Seminars
Since meetings and seminars demand you to act professionally, you should not really go overboard with creativity and try incorporating fun and engaging elements.
Keeping the opening remark precise, minimalist, and to-the-point is what will work the best here.
Here are a few techniques that you can swear by in such a situation:
- Shock them with Statistics
- What if we use the “What if Scenario?”
- Propose A Problem
2. Writing Opening Remarks for Virtual Meetings
With the digitization stepping into our lives, virtual meetings have become an inescapable reality.
Since the attention span is really less in these online settings, you must strive towards making your talk engaging yet informative.
Here are a few techniques that can help you craft a suitable opening remark in this case:
- Props and Placards
- Potential of A Promise
- Sing A Song
But all these techniques won’t work until and unless you are comfortable talking to a camera. If you are not, make sure you check this article on ‘How to Speak (Well) on Camera?‘
3. Writing Opening Remarks for Ceremony/Event
With an interesting line of order already at your disposal, your work as an orator is comparatively a lot easier in this case.
Since the tone of ceremonies and events tend to be either semi-formal or informal, you can afford to be a little creative by employing the following techniques to use:
- Props and Placards
- Sing A Song
- Influence with Imagination
- Optimize that Outfit
Be wary of the fact that the opening remarks can make or break your talk!
I hope that this article provided you with some valuable insight into crafting a strong introduction for your speech. Remember not to use too many techniques at once as it will confuse and disinterest your audience.
Use one or a combination of two complementary techniques at the maximum to craft an effective opening remark and you will be good to go!
The next step now is to start working on your closing remarks. Don’t worry, we’ve written an article on ‘10 of the Best Things to Say in Closing Remarks‘ for you to refer.