How to Start Your Speech
So you’ve done a lot of great work on your Red Thread and you think you have a great talk mapped out, but there’s one problem: you need to figure out how to start your speech. This week on Find the Red Thread we take a look at the three ways that comedians and other successful presenters do openings.
In a “cold open” you just start without any kind of preamble. SNL is famous for their cold opens, but you could also look at David Autor’s TED Talk, “Will automation take away all our jobs?”. You can also do a “warm open,” where you introduce or set up what you’re going to talk about. The idea is to ease into it, like Ken Robinson does in his talk, “Do schools kill creativity?” or Malcolm Gladwell in “The unheard story of David and Goliath.” Finally, there’s the “hot open,” where you start right in with the Goal in the form of a question or statement, like Simon Sinek in his talk, “How great leaders inspire action.”
No matter how you go about it, the first step is the Goal. You have a lot of different options for how to get people there. By changing up how you introduce your Red Thread, you can make a talk or presentation that hooks them from the start.
- The Top 10 Best SNL Cold Opens
- David Autor – “Will automation take away all our jobs?”
- Ken Robinson – “Do schools kill creativity?”
- Malcolm Gladwell – “The unheard story of David and Goliath”
- Simon Sinek – “How great leaders inspire action”
Comedians, both improv and stand up, have a huge number of lessons for us as communicators and message makers. One of the most important is where and how to start your speech? I’m Tamsen Webster of tamsenwebster.com and this is Find the Red Thread.
So you’ve built your message, you’ve used the Red Thread, and now you have this big question: “Well, how the heck do I open it? How do I introduce it? How do I start my presentation or my piece of content?”
The problem is a lot of times, we don’t know where we’re going and, to paraphrase the Cheshire cat, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. But if you’ve used the Red Thread method to build your message, then you know what the first stop on this journey from here to there for your audience is, it’s the Goal. And you’ve got a couple different options about how you get people there.
And for this, I’d like to go to the inspiration of comedy to give us what those options are. The first is something called a “cold open.” It’s where you start right in without any kind of preamble on a story that’s related to the content that you’re talking about. If you’re familiar with the TV show Saturday Night Live, then you know what this looks like.
If you want to see it in the form of a talk, you can go watch David Autor’s talk on TED.com called “Will automation take away our jobs?” In this case, he opens with, “Here’s an interesting fact, In the last two decades since ATM’s were introduced, the number of bank tellers has actually doubled.” And he goes on to explain that a bit but it’s to ultimately set up this goal that the audience has, this question that they have of, will automation take away our jobs? You can guess his answer is no, it won’t.
The next option, also coming from comedy, is something called the “warm open” and that’s where you introduce and set up what you’re about to tell people just a little bit and you can do it either overtly or covertly. You can tell them, “I’m about to tell you a story about X, Y, and Z.”
You can ease into it like Ken Robinson does in his TED talk, “Do schools kill creativity,” or you can give the clue to the whole idea right in the first couple of lines. That’s what Malcolm Gladwell does in his TED talk, “The unheard story of David and Goliath.”
He starts with the line, “I want to tell you about a story that’s obsessed me ever since I first heard about it. It’s set when the Kingdom of Israel was in its infancy, 3,000 years ago,” he talks about how it’s set in the Shepula and then he goes on to explain that the reason why it obsessed him was that he thought it was about one thing and discovered it was about something else. And then he spends the next 10, 12 minutes of the talk telling the unheard story of David and Goliath before finally concluding with the idea and the change which is that things aren’t always what they seem and so we need to dig deeper.
A third option doesn’t exist in comedy, at least not that I know of or not that I’ve heard of and it’s something I call the “hot open” and this is where you start right in with the goal either in question or in statement form.
If you want to see this in a TED talk, go look at Simon Sinek’s talk about how great leaders inspire action, his famous “Start with why” talk. And he starts right in with the question that he is there to answer, why is it things don’t always go as we assume, and then gives the converse of that question and then goes on to give his great talk.
So don’t fear next time you’ve figured out what your Red Thread is but don’t know how to open it, play with these different options. Think through what’s a story I could tell or some numbers I could open with? Do I want to start right in or do I want to ease into it just a little bit? Or do I want to start hot and start right in on the goal and get right into the meat of the content?
No matter what, as long as you get people to the goal, you will already be well on your way to moving people from point A to point B. So cold, warm or hot, that’s your choice. I’m Tamsen Webster of tamsenwebster.com and you can find your own Red Thread with the free Red Thread Worksheet that you can get at findyourredthread.com.