How to Open a Speech.

I’ve noticed a lot of pastors have one trade-mark way to open their sermons. If it works for them, cool. But most of us need a variety of ways to open up a speech, talk, or broadcast. Here are a few good ones:

Ask a question. Why should we ask questions? Because you’re reading this sentence. When we homosapiens hear a question, it’s like someone just gave us an itch. We can’t leave until it’s scratched. It really doesn’t matter how important the question is. Why did the chicken cross the road? Well, who cares? What chicken? What road? We want to know the answer anyway, because we’re bred and born that way.

Make a promise. People want to know why they should listen to you, so tell them. “By the end of this talk, you’ll know how to deal with anxiety,” or, “When you leave this room, you’ll read at twice the pace you do now,” or even, “When we’re finished here, you’ll know why your greatest problem isn’t HIV AIDS, world poverty, or global warming – it’s God’s wrath.” Personally, I don’t use this very often because it’s a little sales-pitchy, and I’m a preacher. But it works if you want to sell books.

Tell a story. The reason I love this opener is that it has three effects. One, it hooks people into your world. Secondly, it gives you credibility as a person. Especially for pastors, this is important – you need to let people know you’re REAL. Finally, it helps relax me. When you get into a story, you forget about your nerves and the pressure of the situation. For beginning speakers, I recommend this as your main tool for the first couple of years – bridge out after that. The downside is that personal stories take a long time and aren’t as contributive to the content as other things. But I think calming nerves is worth it.

Quote a credible resource. I’ll never forget the time I was at a Christian conference in high-school, and the topic was “nihilism”. Who cares about that? But then the speaker walked on stage and quoted my favorite Linkin’ Park song. From that moment on, I was hooked. He knew my world, and nihilism, whatever it was, had something to do with it.

Make a shocking statement.  Jesus said a lot of shocking things. You know, “Cut off your limbs”, “Be a eunuch for the kingdom,” “If anyone comes after me, he must take up his cross and follow me.” Preachers, I think, have a lot of shocking things to say, and they ought to say them. Jesus could have said, “self-sacrifice is important”, or “stay away from temptation”, “abstinence is something I value”. Instead, he shocks us out of our complacency and says something that rips into our sin. We shouldn’t be afraid to do the same.

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  1. The way you showed the power behind Jesus’ choice of phrase is great, Nick. “Abstinence is something I value” had me laughing.

    On the chicken and the road question, have you seen the answers from a couple dozen historical figures – ? These answers in particular stood out to me as plausible ways to respond to the question:

    Thomas de Torquemada: Give me ten minutes with the chicken and I’ll find out.

    Albert Einstein: Whether the chicken crossed the road or the road crossed the chicken depends upon your frame of reference.

    Donne: It crosseth for thee.

    And my favorite:

    Ernest Hemingway: To die. In the rain.

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