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How to Write a Pro Opening for Your Speech
The audience expects these four things.


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When a speech sounds right at the opening, you just know it. But why it sounds right is not obvious. That said, here's a formula that will make it sound right every time. It's so easy you can use it extemporaneously. The opening formula? A-R-T-S:
  • Acknowledgments
  • Rapport
  • Topic
  • Subtopics
Audiences expect to hear these four things at the top of a talk and in this order. You can add elements if you're careful but you can't eliminate any of them.

If you've heard a talk that didn't quite gel in the beginning, the failure to follow ARTS is probably why.

Here's how it works:

Acknowledgements are recognitions of the people who must be mentioned by the speaker – key officials, group leaders, officiants, and special guests.
 
Rapport is a story, observation or fact that ties the speaker to the audience or location, not the topic or cause at hand. This is important because moving off topic in this way shows the audience that you're a human with a three-dimensional life, not just a peddler who's there to sell them some idea. This also shows you're doing more than reading the same talk you give everywhere you go -- think of it as an expansive version of the lead singer of a band shouting the name of your city at the top of a concert.
 
Topic is a clear -- and short -- statement of what you want the audience to do or believe by the end of the speech. This is not the same as telling them what you're going to talk about. Tell them what you intend to prove:
  • "Our plans for growth are going to significantly improve the economy in the coming year."
  • "This city needs a new baseball stadium and sports complex."
  • "I'm the best choice to hold this office."
They may not agree. Fine. That'll make them listen more closely. By making your topic sentence something that makes them react with agreement or disagreement, you make them more likely to listen. If they agree, they'll listen in order to have their beliefs reinforced. If they disagree, they'll listen so they can challenge you, at least in their minds. Either way they're paying attention, and that's the most important part of the task of speaking.

Subtopics 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. This gives the audience a map of what you intend to say, which helps them keep paying attention, and, again, that's vital to a successful talk.

Put these four elements together in this order and you get a professional opening that's also easy to write.

Here's ARTS in action:
 
Mr. Mayor, members of the city council, of course our event organizer, Carol Washington, and all of you:  thank you for being here today.

It's a privilege to be back in Paris, Tennessee. This brings back memories, because I went to college not more than a half-hour up the road at Murray State University. The law has changed since I was an undergrad but, back in the day, Paris was known for one thing: it was the closest place to Murray you could buy liquor. Murray, you may know, was once dry. So for more than a few seniors, Paris was a second home.

But I'm here to talk about something quite different: Paris deserves the growth that will come from the new factory we want to build here. I want to tell you about three issues that I know matter to all of you: 

First, we chose Paris because the natural and human resources here are unique to the region.

Second, your city government values growth, and so do we.

Finally, our plan for hiring is going to effectively eliminate unemployment in the entire county.

Let's begin.

At the top of a speech, audiences expect four things. Here they are.


Simple, see? Doesn't even matter how long the speech is. A-R-T-S produces a professional-sounding beginning, and no matter the topic or speaker, it will always work. Always.
 


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