How To Start a Speech in a School Competition and Other Presentation Hacks

There is no denying that delivering a speech in a school competition is scary. You want to get a high grade, win the contest, and keep the audience’s attention, all the while worrying whether your speaking abilities meet the criteria.

In all that mental tumult, you should not forget that a school speech competition is a unique opportunity to practice your public speaking—and you can’t take that for granted.

Public speaking is only one among many soft skills you should practice if you want to thrive in any career path you choose to follow.

If you are like the majority of people, you find it hard to hone your public speaking skills because you cannot get over stage fright.

Here are some ideas for how to start your speech so that you capture your listeners’ attention from the onset and remain confident in yourself during the rest of your speech. You will also find tips to overcome your stage fright once and for all.

Credit: Frank Busch

Is There One Best Way To Start a Speech in School?

Hooking a reader with an intriguing opening sentence is one of the most well-known writing strategies professional authors use to get people to continue reading their work. 

The same philosophy applies to speech deliveries. You want to grab the attention of your audience right from the start so that they don’t tune out that easily. In short, how you begin your speech will affect whether your classmates end up listening to the entire presentation or not.

Is there one best way to start a speech in a school then? Definitely not! 

There are countless ways writers can hook their readers—and the same is true for your speech. You can use a variety of different strategies to capture the attention of your peers and amaze your teacher as soon as you open your mouth to speak.

Credit: Skitterphoto

Here are some suggestions you can try:

  1. Make eye contact with your audience
  2. Start from the conclusion
  3. Recite a quote or a poetry verse
  4. Open up and say something about yourself
  5. Use a narrative tool to start your speech
  6. Make a joke or two
  7. Say something not widely known
  8. Engage your audience with a thought-provoking question
  9. Use visualization as a tool to introduce your topic
  10. Reference something from pop culture
  11. Introduce your name only if you have to

Eye Contact

Body language is as powerful a communication tool as any words you can come up with. You should recognize this and use it to your advantage during your presentation.

Especially in the beginning, if you want to own the room, your presence must be strong. Making eye contact with your peers and your teacher is a guaranteed way to accomplish just that. A good idea is to:

  • Be silent for a couple of moments
  • Look your listeners in the eye
  • Start with your opener

When you come up to the stage or stand in front of your classmates, the worst thing you can do is start blabbering instantly. Letting the room fall into silence is a good strategy to have your listeners prepare themselves for an amazing speech, and it allows you to establish a good rapport by looking as many people in the room as you can in the eye. Only then can you start your speech confidently, since you have already got the eyes of the entire room on you. 

Conclusion First Method

To have a successful presentation, you will probably need to relate original ideas or viewpoints to your listeners. Instead of saving your conclusions for the end of your speech, why not start with at least one aspect of them? You can say something like:

“As I was researching this topic, I found that _________, which contradicts all our established viewpoints. Now, let me convince you the same by telling you how I came to this conclusion.”

By revealing an interesting piece of information or expressing a novel idea or opinion, your listeners will want to hear how you came to it. 

Begin With a Quote or a Famous Poetry Verse

A famous quote, poetry verse, or even a short passage from a book puts a great spin on the opening of your speech. Usually, your listeners will recognize you’re citing someone else and will want to hear how the intriguing line connects to your topic.

Whatever your speech is about, you can surely find a quote or a verse to introduce it.

Reveal Something About Yourself

One foolproof method to start your speech originally is to make the first couple of sentences personal.

You can share something from your childhood or reveal a personality trait you know your classmates don’t know about. Even though it may sound like that has nothing to do with talking about your actual topic, you are bound to find a way to make a connection with just a little bit of thinking and introspection.  

Narration as a Tool

If you can’t find a way to introduce your topic by talking about yourself, you can still employ narration as a method and tell another person’s story. 

There is plenty of inspiration to be found in history. Start from the era in which the concepts you are going to deliver a speech on were first introduced to the world. Search for fun facts about people that are related to the subject matter or some intriguing historical events and tell a story. Your audience will immediately settle into the listening mode and be enthralled by it until you’re finished talking.

Everyone Loves a Good Joke

If humor is your forte, use it to draw your listeners in from the start of your presentation. A good joke does wonders with putting the spotlight on you. Even the members of the audience who might not have been paying attention right away will be alerted by other people laughing in the room and will tune in from there on.

You might think you cannot crack a good joke, so you can pick any other method from the list instead. You should still try and think of putting some humor in the parts of your presentation here and there. While you’re structuring your speech, something amusing is bound to come up. 

Surprise Your Audience

“Did you know that” is an amazing way to start your speech and have everyone in the room captivated from the get-go. During your research, you have certainly come across some interesting or shocking facts that are not widely known. By throwing them at your listeners, you get the element of surprise you want at the beginning of your presentation.

Your classmates will know right away you will talk of something interesting, and that will make them put their phones aside, quit chatting with each other, and divert their attention to you.

Pose an Intriguing Question

Not quite different from starting your speech with a lesser-known fact, posing a question directly to your listeners will help you harness their attention. Your question can be a real or rhetorical one, depending on your topic and your ideas. A real question is great because it helps you build rapport with your listeners right away and actively include them in your speech.

Visualization as a Tool To Start Your Speech

This method is similar to the story-telling one, only instead of merely relating something to your listeners, you’re making them visualize a scenario. Introduce a narrative related to the concepts or problems you’re exploring in your speech and make your classmates interact with the topic by having them imagine that narrative.

By having your listeners visualize a scenario, you will not only draw them into the subject of your speech but also grab their attention from the very beginning and keep it during the rest of your presentation.

Use Elements of Pop Culture

Who says your school competition speech can’t include references to popular culture? If you’re not big on poetry or looking up quotes you can use at the start of your speech, why not make a reference to a famous movie or a song?

You’ll achieve the best effect if you bring up a celebrity or entertainment piece you know your classmates are familiar with. You can also think of a joke while you’re at it and combine the two great methods to start your speech and have all eyes and ears on you.

Should You Say Your Name?

If you want to make sure you have an innovative opening to your speech, you should avoid starting with your name or a dry introduction. Plus, your teacher and your classmates already know who you are, so this part may be particularly unnecessary in a school presentation.

Perhaps you feel introducing yourself will make your presentation more professional or win you extra points with your teacher. In that case, you can say your name after you’ve already begun your speech with any of the previously listed methods.

Whichever method suits your topic or speaking style best, you need to make sure you don’t have a dry introduction—the last thing you want is for the start of your speech to sound too generic or rehearsed. The ideas presented above can do wonders in eliminating the chances of that happening during your school competition speech.

What Are Public Speaking Skills?

Credit: Teemu Paananen

Many skills fall under the broad category of public speaking skills. Some of those are:

  • Writing skills you employ to draft your speech
  • Time management
  • PowerPoint skills
  • Speaking fluency
  • Proper body language

All these are a part of your presentation, and you need to practice them to achieve proficiency in public speaking. You should pay special attention to three persuasion techniques you have to know if you want to give a successful speech. They are:

  1. Ethos
  2. Pathos
  3. Logos

To understand what each of these is and how it is relevant for public speaking, check out the table below:

Persuasion Technique What It Is Why It Matters
Ethos Ethos is about you as a speaker. It represents your credibility and trustworthiness. You need to have a strong ethos so that your listeners believe what you’re saying matters. 

It helps if your audience already knows who you are, but you can also establish ethos in your introduction.

Pathos Pathos is about your rapport with the audience. It’s appealing to your listeners’ emotions. You need a strong pathos to make your listeners engage with the topic of your speech. 

You can usually establish it by sharing a story with your audience in the introduction or engage them in your presentation by asking them questions.

Logos Logos is about using facts and logic in your presentation. Strong logos in your presentation ensures your point is clear. 

It is the opposite of pathos in the way that you appeal to your listeners by stating factual evidence that supports your arguments.

Why Do Public Skills Matter?

You need to know what public skills consist of and practice them because you will need to use them throughout your life.

Besides getting a high grade or winning a school competition, public skills are important for your:

  1. Job prospects
  2. Work performance
  3. Confidence
  4. Personal relationships

Here’s how strong public skills help you in each of the listed areas of your life:

Areas Public Skills Affect How They Affect Them
Job prospects Public speaking skills are needed in every workspace today. If you want to get an internship or land the job of your dreams, you will need to open yourself up to developing these skills.
Work performance When you do get that job, your performance will be improved by how much you’ve sharpened your public speaking skills. Whether you want to influence a decision or deliver a speech at conferences, you will need to use strong public speaking skills to do it. 
Confidence It is a well-known fact that you cannot be a successful public speaker if you’re not highly confident in yourself.

By practicing your public speaking skills, you’re inevitably growing your confidence as well, which is significant for both your personal and professional life.

Personal relationships It can happen that you don’t get what you want out of your personal relationships because you cannot argue your points successfully. 

Well, guess what honing public speaking skills does? Just that! By being a pro at public speaking, you can manage yourself much more eloquently and confidently in your personal exchanges.

What About Stage Fright?

Credit: Matthew Henry

Experiencing performance anxiety before delivering your speech can be a serious problem. The most important thing to note here is that you are not alone. Many students and even professionals deal with stage fright all the time.

The excellent news is that you can do something about it. Here are the conscious steps you can take to overcome your fear of public speaking:

  1. Acknowledge your fear and make peace with it
  2. Raise your hand in class and speak whenever you can
  3. Deliver your speech to your friends or family members first
  4. Practice exercises to calm yourself

Coming to Terms With Your Fear

Maybe you don’t fear public speaking exactly, but you still probably experience some dose of anxiety before it’s your turn to deliver a speech. In either case, you need to acknowledge how you feel and be fine with it.

When you have come to terms with your anxiety, it makes your fear far less powerful. It helps to know that you are not alone in this and that all your classmates have to deal with it too. If you make a mistake during your presentation out of nervousness, forgive yourself, and just move on.

Perhaps you will not overcome your fear overnight, but as soon as you’re ready to accept it, the journey towards becoming a pro at public speaking begins.

Getting Used to the Sound of Your Own Voice

Whenever you have the chance to speak up in a large group of people—do it! Your classes are a perfect opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and participate in discussions. If you get used to other people listening to you, doing a presentation will look less scary.

Practicing Your Speech in Advance

A great way to minimize your fear before a speech is to prepare for it thoroughly and in advance.

If you have social anxiety that is making public speaking seem like a monster, you will probably have an issue delivering your speech to your friends or family members too. It is precisely because of that that you should practice with the people you know and trust. The practice will make for a perfect opportunity to let go of your fear.

Soothing Yourself With Exercises

Conquering fears and practicing a positive mindset takes time and conscious effort. You have already seen that delivering a speech in a school competition is not the only time in your life you’ll need to address a large number of people. For this reason, you should incorporate exercises that make you practice calmness into your daily routine. You can try:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Visualization
  • Positive affirmations

Do High Schools Teach Public Speaking Properly?

Since public speaking skills are so crucial for any young professional to possess, you’d think high schools would incorporate it more into the mainstream curriculum.

Some school activities certainly make students create slideshows and do presentations, but how well are the students equipped to do the same in their future jobs?

To be able to grow your confidence, you need to engage with the subject you’re being taught all the time. If you want to be an excellent public speaker, start by mastering the skills needed for giving a stellar speech in a school competition. 

If you believe that it’s time to reinvent high schools, you are welcome to share your ideas with us, and we’ll publish your words on our blog.

Let’s rethink education together!