How to start a speech that grabs attention & makes people sit up & listen

How to start a speech that grabs attention and makes people sit up and listen

How To Start A Speech
“Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I want to say a few words tonight about …”

Blah, Blah, and Blah de Blah. (Yawn!)

When some people start a speech or presentation their opening is about as interesting and captivating as a free root canal filling.

How long do I have to get your attention? More importantly, have I still got it?

  • In 2000 the average attention span was recorded as 12 seconds
  • In 2012 the average attention span was recorded as 8 seconds
  • What’s more interesting is the average attention of a goldfish is 9 seconds!

By now it should have taken you 20 seconds to get to this point, I hope you are still with me, I hope I have your attention? If so, CLICK HERE:

You have a very short opportunity to gain the attention of your audience some would argue that you have less than 30 – 60 seconds and in that time people have made their mind up about you and are either connected or already their minds are wandering.

Grab The Attention of Your Audience 

Have you ever stood up in front of a group of people at work, or at a social event, to start a speech and looked at a sea of glassy expressions looking back at you? If so, you’ll know that it’s very difficult to grab and keep attention when speaking in public. So what do you do? Many effective speakers and speech writers have learned that crafting a compelling opening is critical to gain and keep attention. This post will tell you one simple way and give you many examples how you can write a speech opening that will increase your success at gaining and keeping attention. That method is called the Scenario opening.

The Scenario Opening

Painting words images in the mind of the audience immediately focuses attention, thats why the Scenario opening is a very successful technique. Two very important concepts to remember when public speaking are primacy and recency. “Primacy” states people remember the most what they hear when you start speaking in public and “Recency” is what stays with them at the end. (So the conclusion is just as important as the opening) Using a Scenario opening works so well because it forces the audience involvement by asking a question which makes them think specifically about a situation. You may even observe some in the audience look up and to their left with their eyes, a common reaction when mentally constructing a picture.

Here are 11 ways you could use a Scenario Opening

  • Can you imagine a day when…
  • Just picture yourself…
  • Remember when you were in…
  • Imagine yourself…
  • Do you still remember the smell…
  • Do you still remember the feeling of…
  • Can you remember hearing…
  • Have you ever felt that you…
  • Have you ever tasted…
  • Just picture yourself experiencing…
  • What if you could be the next…

Rehearse and Practice

If you’re looking to grab the attention of your audience the next time you speak in public a great method to ensure that you end up with something that lets you be remembered for the right reasons is by using the Scenario Opening. Make sure that your opening is well rehearsed as this gives you confidence in the split second you get to your feet. If it isn’t, you’ll have trouble starting off your speech strong. Ensure your Scenario opening has an effective link to your subject matter so you easily lead into your main points.

Now that you know the Scenario Opening you’re ready to start your next speech or presentation without worrying that you will lose their attention in the first few vital seconds. Let me know if you try this method and write to me if you would like help in writing your next speech or presentation, it would be great to hear from you.

Sources – Post prompted from reading Steven Fabian & Image from Stock.xchng 


Posted on by Peter Billingham in Blog Posts, Public Speaking

About Peter Billingham

Leader, Learner, Speechwriter, Storyteller, Author. a.k.a. 'The Artful Speaker' Enjoy working on social action projects, Toastmasters, films & adventure travel.

17 Responses to How to start a speech that grabs attention & makes people sit up & listen

  1. James Brooks

    Awesome post, Pete. Looking forward to putting this into action next time I have a presentation!

    • Peter Billingham

      Thanks James – if I can ever help you with writing speeches or preparing a presentation, let me know, it would be a pleasure.

  2. Steven Fabian

    Hi Peter,

    Thanks for mentioning me as a resource, although I don’t think I deserve too much credit. :D

    You did a great job of explaining the topic and to create a strong opening for THIS article. Also, it’s pretty discouraging to think that a goldfish has a better attention span than most of us. It would be easier to make a presentation for them. :)

    One tip I’d add is that if someone is about to create a presentation online, I think software such as Sparkol VideoScribe or Powtoon could be really helpful. They’ll help you get the attention of your audience pretty quickly, even if you have a rather boring opening. Just check it out. :D


    • Peter Billingham

      Hi Steve, thanks for taking the time to comment – the words got lost in lots of spam, so sorry for the delay in writing back. I will check out the resources you mention, they are all new to me! Thanks again, best wishes.

  3. Tatyana Dorosh

    Interesting article. When I’m training to inspire people and it is important to be able to hold the attention.

    • Peter Billingham

      Thanks Tanya that’s really true! Glad that you found it useful! Best Wishes …

  4. Peter Billingham

    Thanks Gavin – it always helps having a willing student! Still more magic word to conjure together!

  5. Lily Bao

    Hello Peter,

    I am writing an informative speech for school about the different types of intelligence, it must be maximum 2 minutes long, however I am unable to think of a way to start the speech whilst at the same time still captivating the reader.

    Thank you for your time. :)

    • Peter Billingham

      Thanks Lily – why not use this quote – The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits. (Albert Einstein) It is stupid to think that intelligence is limited to academic intelligence alone.

  6. Peitho

    An excellent technique, Peter. Thank you.

  7. Thank you Peter. I am Pantar from Indonesia

    Thank you Peter. Bagus sekali (bahasa indonesia)

  8. Tacarra Hill

    Amazing article! I feel well prepared for my presentation next week.
    Thank you.

    • Peter Billingham

      Hi There – thanks for taking the time to write on my blog, sorry for the delay but as you can see from my recent posts I have been walking across Spain. I am so glad that you found the article I’ve help and I want you to know how much I appreciate the encouragement by your comment. Many thanks.

  9. Pingback: 8 Quick Tips on How to Introduce Yourself Before a Presentation | Activia Training Blog

  10. Lucy Miller

    I was wondering i have to write a speech from point of view of a character in a book as though we are the character. My character is from Salt by maurice gee. I have to made a speech on the character Tealeaf.
    Could you possibly help me start it off in don’t know a line or paragraph to start it off to make me grap the audiences attention.

  11. Sana Habeeb

    Thank you so much that really help
    Hope the presentation goes really well tomorrow.
    Will write again after its done

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