When you're preparing a speech, what should you say first?  What should your opening sentences be?  

      It all depends on a number of important variables, some of them obvious, none of them difficult to deal with.

      First of all, who is in the audience and how many people are you speaking to?  This is a key question to ask when you're creating your speech.  What kind of a group is it?  A fundraising event, or the monthly meeting of the local Chamber of Commerce?  A company conference or a roast, toast or retirement farewell party?  A wedding, sales meeting or something else?  Knowing who and how many you're speaking to is the first clue to what to say first.

      Is it a formal presentation with a power point slide show or an informal talk without even a microphone?  Are you expected to use a lot of hi-tech bells and whistles or simply stand in front of the group and let the power of your voice and body language convey your message?

      What is the goal of your speech?  To educate, inform, report, motivate, honor, touch, entertain?  Is there a specific action you want the audience to take at its conclusion or is applause enough?

      Is the key element in your talk the material you're offering or the fact that you're the one who's offering it?  Did the audience come to hear about the subject or did they come to hear you?  

      How will you be introduced?   

      Whichever parameters apply to your presentation, keep in mind that you have about 45 seconds to grab the audience and give them a sense of confidence that they're going to be glad they came. As quickly as possible, you want to make them feel you're someone they'll like and respect and that their time won't be wasted. You want them to feel you care more about them than you do about yourself. 

       How to do this?  Start off with something about your common humanity as a shared experience they can relate to. 

       Hopefully you know some of the key members of the audience.  You already know a few points that you have in common, and can say something that will have them nodding their heads and smiling in agreement.  Whether you're behind a lectern or there's just air between you and your listeners, you can use a conversational, down-to-earth, friendly tone, a smile, and lots of eye contact.  You're showing them you respect them and you're glad to be here.  

       Even if the event leader gave you a detailed introduction, (which if you're smart you probably wrote yourself!), add a tidbit that gives the audience another insight into your personality or the expertise that qualifies you to speak to them.  If no one introduced you other than to say your name, here's your chance to tell them a few wonderful things you want them to know about yourself to ensure they'll take you seriously.  

       What about telling a joke? If it's absolutely a propos to the occasion, if you've rehearsed it and can tell it well, go ahead. However, avoid "trying to say something funny." The dead silence that'll follow will set you back to square one attempting to re-establish your status as someone to be respected. Try not to shoot yourself in the foot with an ill-timed or badly prepared witticism.

       Remember, when you face your audience and begin to speak, connect to them through your shared humanity.  Tell them something about you that they can relate to.  Then start talking about your topic.  

       You'll never have to worry about what to say first again.