It’s seconds before your speech.
Your heart is beating and you’re not sure if it’s fear or adrenalin.
The announcer calls your name. Even though you’re prepared, and you like to speak, you feel nervous. You take the stage and the audience is waiting for you to speak.
Then your mind goes blank.
You are not alone.
Most speakers find the beginning of a presentation the most difficult to craft because of the added pressure of making a good first impression.
The first 30 seconds of your speech is when the audience decide whether they are going to listen to you — that’s just something you’ll have to live with as a speaker.
The worst thing you can do is start with an “erm…”, or fiddle around with your notes, your hair or even your slides. These things are a huge turn off to an audience.
Audiences want to hear something fresh and there is no better way to build anticipation and instant connection than starting your speech well.
As I’ve taken the stage and grown as a speaker, I’ve discovered a formula that you can use to instantly engage your audience, ensuring you build a platform for a spellbinding presentation. This formula is called the SPICE formula.
Starting with SPICE
SPICE stands for: Story, Pause, Intrigue, Call-back and Entertainment.
Let’s dive in to how you can use these five elements to crush your next presentation:
1. Sizzle with a Story Start
A story start is probably my favourite way to start a speech for a few reasons. One of the them is that the audience doesn’t expect it.
When you get onto the stage the audience expects you to say, “hello”, greet the host and then tell them what they are going to learn.
It’s all predictable.
When you tell an audience a story you break that expectation and gain their attention instantly!
Good stories are loaded with elements that connect you with an audience, elements like emotion and humour. Stories help with pre-speech memory issues — you can usually remember your story more than you can a fact or figure. This helps you as a speaker.
Stories can be used to build credibility and you won’t sound egotistical while you are doing it.
2. The Power of a Pregnant Pause
The pause is a powerful tool to use when you start a speech because it helps an audience refocus.
The best time to use this tool is after another speaker has finished speaking (especially if they were amazing). Pausing helps your audience digest what was said and anticipate what you’ll say.
Here is how it might work: you’ve paused after being introduced; you’ve made eye contact and the whole room is still.
You might then use a call-back (see below) to transition into your speech. There is nothing better than knowing that you have your audience’s full attention when you speak. The pause can help you achieve that.
After you’ve paused, you can then dive into the third element of the SPICE formula.
3. Ignite with Intrigue
When I won the UK and Ireland public speaking championship some years ago, I started my speech with intrigue: “When life throws its worst at you, you only have two choices — to stay trapped in a tunnel or to keep on walking.”
This was a statement full of intrigue.
A statement like this has the audience wondering, ‘What is he talking about?’ Their curiosity is evoked, and that’s a great way to start a speech.
You want your audience’s attention. You want to hook them. You want them to be curious. You want their interest! This is why intrigue is a great way to start a speech.
Intrigue can be used in a few ways — you can use a quote, a statistic, or a statement. You may even use a prop. One of the World Champions of Public Speaking went to the stage and lit up a cigarette to start his speech — now that’s intriguing!
If you want to use intrigue to hook your audience just search for a quote, statistic or statement that raises curiosity and relates to your content.
4. Connect with a Call-Back
The call-back is the best way to create instant connection.
When you start a speech like this, it helps the audience feel like you are original and creative, and that your presentation is fresh.
A call-back quite simply happens when a previous speaker, or the host, is on the stage and has a very funny moment or intimate moment with the audience which you then refer to in your speech.
If, for example, I dance on stage and the audience laughs, and the speaker after me came on and called back to my dancing (maybe by even doing the same dance!), he would be developing a connection with the audience by using what they are already connected to.
The call-back is an amazing way to start a speech, but to use it, you must be in the room and listen to and look out for what the audience are connected to.
5. Engage with Entertainment
Although I don’t use this element as often as the rest, entertainment is a great way to start a speech.
Do you know that some of the best paid speakers out there fuse their speech with magic and music? Some speakers even have an entertaining video trailer and come out to music, getting their audience clapping and jumping with them!
Do you have a talent that you can use to start your speech with? Can you play an instrument, rap, dance, or do an illusion ? Feel free to use these skills in your intro as long as they relate to your content (otherwise you’ll come across gimmicky).
Start as You Mean to Go On
Most introductions are flat, predictable and boring — yours doesn’t have to be.
When you use the SPICE formula, you will start your speech with much more certainty and confidence and quickly build a connection with your audience, so they are eager to hear what you have to say next.
You’ll also find that not only will you stand out as a speaker doing this, those pre-speech nerves will also vanish.
You won’t have to worry about your mind going blank, and instead of being nervous you’ll be excited to share your first words.
Seeing your audience’s eyes light up as they lean forward with excitement, waiting for the rest of your speech, will be something you experience every time you take the stage.