That First Sentence

Want to get off to a great start in your next presentation? Make your first sentence have meaning. Nothing is wrong with “I’m delighted to be here tonight,” or “Thanks for the invitation to be your speaker.” But that’s pretty boring and not a great way to motivate the audience to listen to you.

Instead, here are some suggestions to make that first sentence count. Start with an adult version of a children’s story, “Once upon a time….”  “As I was driving here tonight I saw…,” or “When I was in my first semester as an instructor I found that….” “On Jul 20, 1969, as I was driving through Champaign, Illinois, Neil Armstrong landed on the moon and I knew then.…”

What follows, of course, will be the narrative of the story or the problem that occurred. Then tell how your presentation will connect with solving that problem or making a point of your talk.

Your first sentence should show direction, and what follows should provide an orientation to your speech or a relevant reason for your beginning narrative or problem.

Another way to begin might be to compliment your audience or the occasion. You might begin with “You all have to feel good about this past year because…,” or “Your city is very hospitable. When I was running too late to get a cab, the hotel clerk offered me his car to be here on time tonight.”  To connect locally, you must do  research on the city or environment in which you are speaking. I remember speaking to the Glass Blowers Association and the challenge and enjoyment in learning about this unique organization. But finding out that their biggest clients were large university science departments which needed unique and unusual beakers, cylinders, and flasks allowed me to begin with my connection to universities as a communication professor. This led directly to one of the points of my presentation: that we are all connected to one another in some way.

The third way you might have a strong opening sentence is a startling statement that relates to your topic in some way. Because of my work in teaching and coaching public speaking, I often begin with “The number one fear of Americans is public speaking.”

If you are discussing earth’s natural resources, you might begin with “70% of the earth is covered with water, yet only 1 % is accessible to drink.”

If you have something to say at the very beginning of your presentation that has meaning or direction, you also are getting the attention of the audience and in essence saying to your audience, “Everything I say counts.”

One of my heroes is racing legend Mario Andretti. He once said, “If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough.”  It is a good thing I’m not a racecar driver because I like to have things under control. And making that first sentence count is a good start to maintaining control in your next presentation.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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