HUGH CULVER

Why the Opening to your Speech Sucks

Updated to Business on December 30, 2022.

You’ve just been introduced, the room is silent—this is your moment.

You step on stage.

You know the first few minutes of any speech are critical—you need to grab the audience.

And then it happens – blank stares.

But it gets worse…

You notice two people leaning over to talk. A few people are finding the conference agenda more interesting and someone just pulled out their cell phone.

Don’t blame the audience – the problem is the opening to your speech sucks.

In this post I’ll go over the 5 biggest mistakes I see speakers making in their opening. For more reading, here are my 3 most popular posts about mistakes speakers need to avoid:

15 mistakes you should never make on stage

The Five Biggest Mistakes Most Speakers Make on Stage (and how to avoid them)

Five mistakes you never ever want to make on stage

Alrighty, here’s the 5 mistakes to avoid in your opening:

1. Thanking the host

We know you’re happy to be there (you are, aren’t you?) – you don’t need to tell us. You also don’t need to thank the host, the audience, the A/V crew, the guy that brought you breakfast or your taxi driver from the night before.

Let’s assume you love ’em all. Not get on with your speech.

2. Talking about your trip

If you want to alienate an audience fast, talk about your hotel, flight and your taxi ride to the hotel. Remember, that’s not how most people live.

Instead, talk about things that matter to them, like: their boss, clients, making sales, paying a mortgage, kids, marriage and health. The more they know you know them, the more they’ll trust you and learn from you.

3. Making excuses

Shit happens – don’t make excuses. When you make excuses you put more attention on what’s wrong. Assume something will go wrong and know how to roll with it.

Running out of time? Skip some slides and end on time. Forgot the next piece in your speech? Move on – nobody will miss what isn’t there.

Excuses are self-serving. And your audience doesn’t need to hear them.

4. Not getting to the problem

Unless you juggle for a living, we need to know what’s the problem you’ve come to solve. Preferably in the first 5 minutes.

Just like a good movie, at the start we get the reason to watch the rest of the film.

Better still: at the end of your speech loop back to the beginning, and remind them how your solutions deal with the problem you came to talk about.

5. Low batteries

You don’t need to come out like Tony Robbins (although that might work for some), but you do need to charge up your batteries and bring some energy to your opening.

I always squeeze in a hard workout the morning of a speech. Even 15 minutes is enough to get my blood pumping, my heart rate up and my energy ready to launch my speech.

You may have 60 minutes on stage, but the first 5 can make or break your speech – nail the opening and you’re halfway to nailing the whole speech.