Exercise: How to Start a Speech

How to Start a Speech

How to start a speech.  How do these five speakers capture your attention and engage you at the beginning of their talks?

Watch the first minute of each speaker.

How did they begin?  What was the first word?  What did this achieve?  Which speaker is hardest to stop watching after 60 seconds?

…and the challenge…  stop watching each after 1 minute…  it is too easy to get hooked and end up spending your next 90 minutes watching these 5 speeches…  Save that for later 😉


The five speakers

Seth Godin

Seth Godin is an entrepreneur and blogger who thinks about the marketing of ideas in the digital age. His newest interest: the tribes we lead.

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Jeff Bezos


As founder and CEO of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos defined online shopping and rewrote the rules of commerce, ushering in a new era in business. Time magazine named him Man of the Year in 1999.

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Steve Jobs

As CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs spearheaded a few of the most iconic products in technology, entertainment and design.

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JJ Abrams

Writer, director and producer J.J. Abrams makes smart, addictive dramas like TV’s Lost, and films like Cloverfield and the new Star Trek.

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Elizabeth Gilbert

The author of Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert has thought long and hard about some large topics. Her next fascination: genius, and how we ruin it.

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What other great speeches are you going to look at? Do you pay attention to how great speeches start?

33 responses to “Exercise: How to Start a Speech”

  1. As a writer and speaker, I was hooked by the opening minute of Elizabeth Gilbert’s presentation. She came across as vulnerable and authentic, and I couldn’t wait to hear what had changed for her, and what she did about it.

  2. Steve got my attention from the beginning, I was drawn by his confidence and without show any regrets that he is not a college person nor he didn’t graduate, and transferred this idea to a joke at the beginning I think that was his ice breaker, later he mentioned that there will be 3 stories which it turns out highly inspired ones, I was waiting each single one and I belive he told it well. . He had strong deep sound you can notice how strong it was when the students started to applause and he keeps talking without the applause over ingredients his sound or maybe they had good speakers 😉

    However thanks Mr.Conor I’m following each lessons seriously and determined to improve my speaking.

    Thank you Sir.

    1. Great insights – glad you are following the course 😉 keep up the journey!

  3. Seth and Jeff started with personal stories, Steve started with praising the most important thing audience cared at that moment, JJ started with humourous opening, Elizabeth started again with personal story with humour/suspense. I learn from all these is that personal story is the best to start with if you can not make audience laugh in first minute?

  4. I’m trying hard not to be too critical, especially as Seth and Steve are excellent speakers. None of these openings were exceptional. Elizabeth was the most engaging in my opinion. These video demonstrate how valuable the Toastmasters’ experience or receiving public speaking coaching is.
    Besides the top Toastmasters’ contestant speakers, 3 other speakers who consistently have strong openings are: Michael Port from Heroic public speakers, Ramit Sethi from I will teach you to be rich and yourself, Connor.

    1. Wow – thank you – I will find some examples from Michael and Ramit! Best

  5. Elizabeth was by far the most captivating for me. She was the easiest to connect to and understand. Also she started with something different, so I was easily interested.

  6. I thought Seth’s speech was the best because he started with a story that connected with the audience.

  7. Great exercise – and a realy tuff choise. They are all excellent. Chose Elizabeth (who I did not know beforehand), because she presented herself as a succesfull writer – and then something happened… keeping the suspense. I have to go back now to hear rest of her story. See you 🙂

  8. Winston P. Ekpotu Avatar
    Winston P. Ekpotu

    Well, they all began their speeches with stories that would help them drive through their points, and all five of them had these stories right.

    For me I couldn’t stop watching Jeff’s speech not because he had the best story, but because of the manner of delivery. His voice was so captivating and commanding.

    In summary, one should always begin his or her speech with a story, that the audience can identify with.

  9. […] Exercise: How to Start a Speech – videos and a question: how should you start a good speech? […]

  10. Great excercise and comments conor, thanks for these, im joining toastmasters tomorrow evening in Ireland and your tips Im sure will help with the delivery of my first and future speaches. thank you

    1. Fantastic – which club will you be joining?

  11. I thank you Conor for exposing me to people I would otherwise not have listened to. But I must say that Elizabeth Gilbert speaks to me most. My decision being biased as i am an aspiring children’s book writer , and i feel like we have the same character , me and her.

    1. Wonderful – are there any other great female speakers that you would recommend or could point to a youtube video of? Best

  12. Thank Conor for this great opportunity to mentor me to become a great speaker. All of the speakers they started with stories, the one that was difficult to stop watching was Elizabeth as she began to say ” I wright stories” i wanted to hear more as she continued i was hooked.

    1. Fantastic. I loved Elizabeth’s speech 😉

  13. Thanks Conor for this course. I am still working on the webcam and its been amazing so far.
    They are all great speeches from wonderful individuals, but that of Jeff Bezos was one I couldn’t stop after 60 seconds. There was something about the story that made it so captivating. His use of words and phrases was brilliant, his facial expression was like his way of expressing words in writing and his change of voice suits expressively each words his was saying. “It is harder to be kind than to be clever, being kind is a choice and being clever is a gift.”

    However, it seems the best way to begin a speech is to start by telling a very good and real life story.
    Thanks again Coach!

    1. Excellent answer! I find that each of them tells a story that I want to hear 😉

  14. Conor thank you for doing this. I am sure that this couse will help me a lot. When i started recording myself 3 months ago, I was nervous and scared of the web cam. I know that sounds crazy but it is the truth. Now I feel free to speak, and this alone is great progress, not mentioning your other lessons. Than you once again!
    And I realized that people just love stories, and thay need to identify with the speaker, so it would be wise to start with one good, and honest story.

    1. Brilliant! I am so glad that you have begun the practice with the webcam. It is easy, but hard. So few people do the practice.

      And yes, we humans have a fascination for stories – and nothing better than real life stories. This morning my daughter spent breakfast telling me about the wild black cat that came into our house last night and how she used bits of dried meat to get it to come out – all real, and lots of excitement!

  15. Robinson Nakash Avatar
    Robinson Nakash

    Awesome and great to hear that Thanks Conor for all the stuff you have put in

    1. 😉 kind words!

  16. They are big names and hence people are curious to know about their personal experiences,
    Do you think the same approach would work for everyone?

    1. Not just think, I know. The challenge is to share a story is reflected by the audience’s journey. If I share a story about how I wrote a book with an audience of 9 year old school kids, most of them will be bored. If I share it with a group of writers, it will resonate. There are a few aspects of story that are important – check out my answer on quora: http://www.quora.com/What-are-the-keys-to-telling-a-good-story

  17. That is very interesting!! They began with their individual life experiences

    1. Thanks Daniel 😉

  18. They all started with a personal story and all are very interesting but the one I liked most was Steve Jobs.

  19. My take out – one great way to start a speech is to begin with a story from a personal experience. The story must lead to a particular point the speaker wants to convey.

    1. You nailed it Bernie! 😉

  20. very inspiring 🙂

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