How to Start a Speech

Coming up with an introduction can seem like the hardest part of a speech. For new students, this barrier is crippling. So to counter it, they develop a crutch. Here’s what a generic opener looks like:

“As the second negative constructive, I’m going to go down the flow, respond to the arguments presented in the last speech, and show you why, at the end of the day, a negative ballot is warranted.”

We can do better.

The Generic Intro

“As the second negative constructive,”

All this does is tell the judge that your speaker position hasn’t changed since the beginning of the debate round. “In case you forgot, I’m still the same debater whose name is under the 2N on your ballot.” Not helpful.

“I’m going to go down the flow, respond to the arguments presented in the last speech,”

What else would you do? The judge isn’t wondering what kind of things you’ll talk about in this speech. She’s interested in the kind of arguments you have and your response to the flow. She is not interested in knowing that you’re about to give her arguments. She’s interested in what they are.

“and show you why, at the end of the day, a negative ballot is warranted.”

You’re going to show the judge why they should vote for you? Well, I hope so! Again, the judge knows you want her to vote for you. She needs to know why you want her to.

The Danger

All this generic intro does is tell the judge, “Hey, I’m the same guy I was half an hour ago, and I’m going to respond to his arguments and tell you why you should vote for me!”

But she knows all of that. All this intro really does is tell the judge that we didn’t know how to start the speech. On a more dangerous level, it signals to the judge that we don’t have something different to offer them.

This is worse than filler, it actually works against you.

We could always just start at the first argument, but often, that can be jarring for the judge. They’re expecting some kind of intro. Also, it does nothing to bring the debate back to your side. Remember, your opponent just gave a speech and you’re here to bring the judge back to what you have to say.

The Winning Intro

The first goal of any intro should be to redirect persuasive momentum. You’re bringing the judge back to your position.

If you’re hitting a roadblock and don’t have any stories, analogies, or memorable quotes from evidence up your sleeve, don’t despair! There is a solution.

Open by explaining in one sentence why the judge should vote for you.

Let’s say you’re running a case to increase funding for homeless veterans. You could open your rebuttal by saying,

"Providing desperately needed funding for homeless veterans will save money, save resources, and most importantly, save lives; that’s why I believe you should pass our plan.”

Immediately, the judge is reconnected with your advocacy. Not only that, but this introduction format works great in formats where you’re giving speeches that are two or three minutes long.

So if you’re stuck, just ask yourself, “In one sentence, why should the judge vote for me?”

Don’t use poisonous filler. Redirect the judge to what truly matters: your arguments.