Show you are “one of the group” by referring to something that is happening right now. One opening to help you immediately connect is to walk out and start with, “I love your theme!” Then tell them why. Or, “This is the perfect time of the year for this meeting.” Naturally, this must segway into your message.
When I speak at a very large hotel like the enormous Opryland Hotel in Nashville, or any of the convention hotels in Vegas, I often use the line, “When I checked in I asked the desk clerk, ‘Do you have a gym!’ She replied, ‘Yes madam, but you don’t need it. You are going to have to walk 6 miles to your room.'”
Your surroundings are often a good starting point. Once I spoke on a set designed to replicate the bar in Cheers. My opening, “As an unashamed, relentless self-promoter, it is great to be in a place where everyone knows my name.”
Location can be another immediate connection with the audience. My all time personal favorite was speaking for the Hamilton Bank in Philadelphia. Their meeting was held in a night club called “Pulsation’s” that enjoyed a futuristic theme. The staff were all dressed in space garb, and robots where meeting and greeting. The bank’s meeting theme was “Close Encounters of the Customer Kind.”
For my entrance, I stepped out of a space ship that had descended three stories, music blasting to the theme of 2001 Space Odyssey, lights flashing, billows of smoke, and I was dressed in a custom-made Wonder Woman costume. As I stepped out, surveying the audience I said, “Now I know why W.C. Fields said, ‘I’d rather be in Philadelphia.'” It brought the house down. When the message is related to the situation, you get a much greater response to comedy lines than they normally deserve.
Sooner or later, something will go wrong while you’re speaking. You can ignore it or incorporate it. The lights will go out. A waiter will drop a tray. In California, there will be an earthquake. Knowing this, why not prepare something to say, and when you get inspiration, remember it for next time. Even if it happened to someone else!
One of the best responses I’ve heard was spontaneous….the first time. Joe Griffith, a humorist from Texas was speaking after dinner on a stage with a formal head table. Ten minutes into his talk, the waitress walked on the platform asking the dignitaries if they wanted more coffee. Every one obviously noticed the major distraction. He quipped, “Have you met my wife? When we work a convention, we WORK a convention.” Great incorporation.
Whenever you come up with a good spontaneous response to an unusual situation, file it away for future reuse.
Another time that I related to the immediate situation at the opening of my talk occurred in a South Carolina resort. The association executive was known for trying to economize and badgering his speakers into lowering their fees. In fact, let’s tell the truth, the man was plain CHEAP! Weather problems lead to delayed flights, missed connections, no luggage or rental car, $150 cab ride, and arriving late at night.
At 9 a.m. there I was, addressing the delegates in my jeans and sneakers. Fortunately it was a resort, and everyone was very casually dressed. So I opened with a comedy routine I had not used in years claiming “Henry insisted he could scrape up my fee, but I had to economize on my expenses so I had to fly a discount airline…….” Then I described how the frugality of their executive had contributed to my many adventures, real and imagined. Mostly imagined!!!
His parsimony was so well known with everyone. Not only did they laugh louder than any audience before to the same material, they all told me later they thought I was only wearing the jeans as an excuse to make fun at Henry’s expense. By the way, he loved being part of the act!! His frugality was a matter of pride to him.
I hope this series of openings are helping with your creativity.