The New Year is a time of optimism. Of anticipation. Of hope.  And the New Year contains this wellspring of expectation because it marks the beginning.  The beginning of something unknown.

The very first moments of a speech share much with the New Year, and like the turning of the calendar, the first thing an audience experiences sets an all-important tone.

According to research detailed in The Association for Psychological Science, people begin forming strong judgements of others within a single second, and like it or not, first impressions stick.

Given the importance of first impressions, here are a few tips for a captivating beginning to your next speech:

  • Understand that your presentation begins the moment the audience can see you. So,

    • Eliminate all barriers between you and your audience. This means ditching notes, a podium, and other impediments that prevent you from making a strong initial connection with the people you want to reach.

    • Use body language to establish your intended tone. Are you powerful and confident? Then stride out purposefully. Looking to be thoughtful and introspective? Then embrace the silence and thoughtfully scan the audience before softly starting. More of an exuberant dreamer? Then bound out with energy and an effusion of ideas.

  • When you begin talking, seize the opportunity to capture your audience with a memorable opening, not the drone of a routine welcome, personal biography, or laundry-list of thank you’s.  These may well be important, but you can include them after you’ve hooked your audience.

  • Evoke emotion. Whether you drum up suspense, say something stunning, or open with the absurd, you need to pique the audience’s attention and stimulate their appetite for what you have to say. One need only look at “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” or “It was a dark and stormy night…” to see the power of an evocative opening line.

So just like the celebratory start to a New Year, your presentations should have an equally exciting, emotive, and engaging beginning.  Thus, somewhere between exercising more and contributing more to your community, make a New Year’s resolution to devote attention to this critical component of your next speech.  After all, it’s how you begin that sets the stage for rest of your speech, and 2018.  Happy New Year!