ood grief, this sounds heavy: In his concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964)
, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart told us how he recognizes pornography. He said, "I know it when I see it."
That applies to a lot of things: when a car looks perfect, when a house is the one for you, when that infection requires a doctor. Stewart's dictum also applies to speeches: You just know when a speech sounds right.
Turns out that, at least for the opening, you don't have to guess like that. There are in fact certain elements that make a speech opening sound polished and professional. My method is so easy, you can even use it extemporaneously. The formula? A-R-T-S:
are recognitions of the people who must be mentioned by the speaker – key officials, group leaders, officiants, and special guests.
is a story, observation or fact that ties the speaker to the audience or location. For instance, a speaker before a university audience might have attended school there, or had a friend or relative who attended. Rapport is stronger when it is unrelated to the topic. In this way, the audience sees a speaker who views them as real people, not just as targets for whatever idea he is pitching. Bonus points for writers who go to the trouble of finding out something flattering about the audience, organization, or location that is not widely know, such as an unpublicized award or insider tale.
is a clear statement of what the speech is about. Here are a few:
- "Today I want to tell you about our plans for growth in the coming year."
- "This city needs a new baseball stadium and sports complex."
- "Despite the name, we don't tolerate clowning around here at clown school."
are the categories or claims within the speech to follow. If you're making a pitch for a new sports stadium, for instance, you might use these three subtopics: financial advantages to the city, benefits to underserved neighborhoods, and the potential for new jobs. (Bonus: When you write the rest of the speech, you'll now have a clear structure to follow.)
Put it all together and it's an easy, professional opening.