O is for Opening (and Closing) a Speech

Make sure your speech opening and closing grabs your audience and keeps them engaged until you finish.

Speech Opening

If you don’t strike oil in 3 minutes, stop boring. – George Jessel

How we begin and end our presentation is a critical success factor.

How we begin and end our presentation is a critical success factor. The audience is going to form their opinion of you within the first 60 – 90  seconds of your opening.  There are other schools of thought that say it only takes 10 seconds for the audience to form their opinion.  Retired Hollywood costumer, Karen Hudson, demonstrates that before you say anything, it is the clothes  you are wearing that impact an audience’s opinion of you.  This page is focusing on what you SAY in your speech opening. 

I don’t recommend memorizing you speech, but I do suggest that you memorize your opening and your closing so you can look the audience right in the eye during these most critical points of delivery.  Dottie Walters, the founder of Walters International Speakers Bureau, suggests we start with a laugh and end with a tear.

Speech Openings

I like the suggestions offered by speaker and storyteller extraordinaire, Jack Barnard. I’ve included some of his speech opening examples so you can note how he also incorporates HUMOR in his openings:

  • Personalize a story (“I took the elevator to get up here, and I started to worry that the person who thought up Muzak may be thinking up something else.”)
  • Establish common ground (“ We’re all Americans here. What a country. Only in America can a pizza get to your house faster than an ambulance.”)
  • Command attention with a salient fact (“Banging your head against a wall uses 150 calories an hour.”)
  • Question and/or ask for show of hands (“How many of you have ever been threatened by a 7-foot Mongolian with green teeth?”)
  • Promise to share something useful (“I promise that if you stay awake through this entire presentation, you will go home tonight with someone brand new – you.”)
  • Make an unusual sound (“Bruuumpph! That is the mating sound of the Canadian Mongoose, which you may wonder what it has to do with our topic tonight.”)
  • Amusing story/joke (make sure it ties into your topic.)
  •  Poem, rhyme or song lyric
  • Strong quotation


Speech Closings

The audience remembers the words spoken at the conclusion of a speech the longest. Here are some of Mr. Bernard’s excellent suggestions on crafting and effective, memorable, close:

  • Call for Action: Tell the audience exactly what you want them to do.
  • Summary: Review the main points or issues you’ve discussed – briefly in the order you presented them
  • Anecdote: A dynamite story that encapsulates everything you’ve been saying.
  • Quotation: Memorized quotation, poem, quip or phrase. Give credit to the author.

Jack further recommends that if you have a question and answer session following your presentation, then have two closings. One before the Q&A session, and one after.


(although, interestingly, my grammar software flags this as “wordiness” )                                

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”


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