Like most things getting started is the hardest part about public speaking. How should you start your speech? What do you say? Who should you say it to? Should you introduce yourself? Should you address your audience? Should you address someone else?
How do you get your speech started?
In this article I’m going to discuss how to initially address your audience when speaking. There are two different situations that you need to consider. Each has their own characteristics and rules.
The first of the situations we’re going to discuss is the formal speech. This is the type of speech that so many of us hate as audience and presenter. You know the ones… the so-called rubber chicken set. In reality there are very few formal speech settings. Weddings, fraternal organizations, and military meals are the ones that spring to mind first.
Formal speeches follow a fixed format. Which is one reason they’re referred to as formal. Each organization will have its own set of rules. However, in general, you are expected to address the most important person first, followed by the rest in priority order. Normally that means the host, followed by the head table and finally a group greeting for the audience. For example, let’s say that you are at a (very) formal wedding where everyone is named by their duty. You might start off by saying something like, “Mr. Director, Mr. & Mrs. Couple, Miss Honor, Mr. Man, Head Table, friends and family.”
The exception is with ultra-formal events. Generally these are not dinner speeches. In these the proper address is to the chairman of the event. So you would start off by addressing the chairman for example “Worshipful Sir”. No other address is required as all discussion is to be directed through this person. Interestingly enough this is not always the most important person in attendance. Rather it is the person in current possession of the gavel.
Informal speeches allow you to change the rules. In fact, you should consider the initial part of your speech to consist of three parts:
1. The introduction
2. The attention getter
3. The acknowledgment or initial address.
While it’s always tempting to start your speech with the acknowledgment — after all that’s what we’ve been taught for formal occasions – avoid it. It’s always best if the first words you say are the attention getter. The introduction should be performed by someone else. But failing that always start with the attention getter, followed by the acknowledgment and then the introduction. So for example, you might say something along the lines of “Have you ever had a problem knowing how to start your speech? Mr. Host, members of the organization, I’m me and I’m here to tell you…”