"Say, why not open with a joke?"           

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       Yup, it's one of the most common misconceptions in speechwriting; opening with a joke is not the way to an audience's good graces and rapt attention.  Don't get me wrong - I'm the greatest proponent of oratorical humor you'll ever find!  However, the use of humor demands more care than a single punchline cut-and-pasted at the beginning, especially since such jokes tend to not fit.  All too often, introductory jokes clash with a speech which turns dry and conspicuously humorless post-punchline.  Read on for some intro tips to keep 'em listening like no one-liner ever could....

  • The Introductory Scenario - Jokes are out, but stories, original stories, are undoubtedly in.  Whereas a joke that fits a speech well is quite a rarity,  humorous, intriguing, and appropriate tales can be tailored for any occasion.  Of course, this is option is great for anyone who wants to let the laughs roll - an uproarious story beats a one-liner any day.  And it's especially effective when it's wrapped around the speech - that is, write your scenario with two parts, one serving as the introduction to the speech and the other as the ending.  It provides a level of continuity and closure in the speech that's tough to meet with other methods.  Check Rally 'Round Raleigh and CyberLife (both in the "Samples" section) for examples of the intro/closing scenario; they each use a humorous second-person narrative in this manner.


  • The Reality Check - An audience subconsciously expects certain things from any speaker; for example, the speaker is expected to give a practiced, relatively inflexible and detached performance.  They expect the speaker to be delivering lines rather than actually speaking with the audience; they expect an acted script instead of reality.  The result: it's verrry easy to mess with people by not conforming to these expectations!  Start with conversation with the audience; step down from the spotlight and do the speech while sitting with the people... do anything that makes people wonder, "Is this a speech or is this guy being real???"  (Hence, the reality check.)  The most effective use of this introduction I've seen was a competitive original oratory where the speaker pretended - very believably - that she had forgotten the introduction to her speech.  Coupled with expertly feigned embarrassment and emotional distress, this routine never failed to dupe the audience.  On several occasions, judges even stopped the round and asked if she needed "some time to collect herself!"


  • Nonverbal Openings - These are often the most attention-grabbing introductions; since an audience will always expect a speaker to at least speak, a verbal silence inevitably draws the audience to whatever else you are doing!  I've seen people start speeches in pantomime, by mutely  straightening the clothing of an audience member (it was a speech on superficiality), by moving their lips without sound (a speech on deafness), and by shooting the audience with a ping-pong-ball gun (a speech on violence, done by my father in high school).  Be careful with the use of nonverbal openings, though - if what you do doesn't work with the content of your speech, it's at very high risk of seeming like a gag or a stunt.  Also, be aware of your audience; from what I heard, the shooting-the-audience bit didn't go over well with teachers and the toy gun was confiscated.  Other than that, go nuts - the more creative and unexpected, the better!


      Of course, for all the good ways there are to intro a speech, there are just as many BAD ways.  Let's check some of those out on Page 2...