Throughout the last six years, I’ve heard at least a dozen folks who are good speakers tell other people that they should never open their speech with “Thanks, it’s nice to be here” or some other cordial greeting. I’ve asked many of these folks why they feel so strongly about it and have yet to receive what I consider a satisfactory answer — a giveaway that I might have a myth on my hands.
Here are some of the answers I’ve received when asking why this is so bad:
- It weakens your speech.
- It bores the audience.
- You miss your chance to capture the audience’s attention off the bat.
- You’re supposed to have a powerful opener.
- It makes you sound too ho hum.
My favorite answer is of course, “you’re just not supposed to.” As I press deeper to get more information, the conversation typically turns sour — people tend to get frustrated after the fourth “but why?” If I could speak for these folks, I’d give the peer pressure answer of “that’s what everyone else says.”
I say that it’s a myth and it’s perfectly okay. Here are some examples:
- Barack Obama accepted his historic nomination for President by starting out with the words “Thank you so much.”
- John McCain accepted his nomination for President by starting out with the words “Thank you all very much.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger, in a great speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention, started his speech off with several “thank yous.”
I could go on and on, but practically every politician that is speaking to a cheering group of supporters starts out with a thank you. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that if you’re giving a speech to a group of cheering supporters (regardless of whether or not you’re a politician), then thanking them immediately is a must.
Now you might be thinking “ok, that’s fine for Obama but what about your run of the mill speech to the local chamber of commerce?” I still say that it’s fine. Yes, a boring “it’s nice to be here” might not be the best way to start a speech but “thank you. I’ve been a fan of this group for years so it’s an honor to be able to address you at this event” can help you score points. Just be sincere, honest and say it with a little enthusiasm and you’ll be fine.
In the event that you start a speech with a thank you and everyone in the audience comes up to you afterwards and says you lost them at the onset, please let me know as I’d love to know which planet your audience was from. Otherwise, do what comes natural and focus on the meat of your speech — you’re material.