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What! I Have to Give a Speech? How Do I Begin?
By Dr. Ken Snyder   Printer Friendly Version

From colleges in San Diego to the East coast, giving a speech in front of their classmates can be a terrifying experience for students of any grade level. Incidentally, it is also the #1 fear of most adults.  One of the reasons students (and adults) dread this experience is simply because they don't know how to do it.  Particularly troublesome to novice speakers is "How do I begin my talk?". This month's speaking tip deals with this very problem.

     Dr. Ken Snyder, founder of the Leaders of Tomorrow Communication and Leadership Program, has developed the S-MAP to serve as a format for speech construction.  S-MAP stands for the Speaker's Master Action Plan.  I developed the S-MAP to provide students with a very easy method for constructing a speech.  It allows the speakers to be themselves and have a "conversation with the audience" while delivering the speech.  Notice on the S-MAP below that one can easily build a speech using only six main ingredients:






Notice that the first item on the S - MAP is the Grabber.  This is an excellent way to begin a speech.

What is a Grabber?
        A grabber is a question, a gesture, an unusual or startling fact, a prop, an anecdote or a personal experience that is intended to "grab" the audience's attention.

Advantages of Using a Grabber

1.  It provides the speaker with an interesting start to the speech. This builds confidence, helping the speaker to relax.

2.  It immediately gets the audience interested in the presentation.


1.  Grab their attention with a question.

    How many of you would like to earn fifty dollars this weekend?(A grabber for a speech on earning money.)

    Who in the audience would like to earn an A in math this semester?( Used in a speech on study skills.)

    Concentrate for a moment and ask yourself: "What do I see myself doing five years from now?"( A question grabber for a speech on setting goals.)

    Do you know who put the E on the top of the Eye Chart and why it's there? ( From a speech about vision and eye tests.)

          You can see how these questions would bring forth a response from members of the audience---or at least cause them to stop and think.  By doing this, the speaker has grabbed the audience's attention.

2. Use a gesture.

    A seventh grade student began his speech on gymnastics by doing three complete flips after being introduced to the class.

    An eighth grader "signed" her first sentence to the class as she
    started her speech on communicating with the deaf.

3. Use an interesting or unusual fact.

    One student began her speech on acupuncture with:
            Do you think it's possible that wearing earrings might improve your eyesight?  Pirates wore earrings in their ears for this very reason.  Although scoffed at for centuries, this idea is being reevaluated as part of modern acupuncture theory.

            Do you realize more Americans have died in automobile accidents than have died in all the wars ever fought by the United States?  (A grabber for a speech on automobile safety.)
            Most people think of Arizona as a desert state.  Believe it or not, it actually snows more at the Grand Canyon than it does in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (A student in Arizona began her speech on the wonders of her state with this grabber.)

4. Grab their attention with a prop.

            A fifth grade student had a long piece of pink yarn and an even longer piece of purple yarn spread throughout his audience.  His speech was on the human body and the yarn represented the average length of a human's large and small intestine respectively.

            Another student held a balloon she had painted to represent the Earth before her classmates.  She suddenly pricked the balloon to dramatically demonstrate how we are killing our planet if we don't stop pollution.  Her speech told us what we could do to help.

5. Use the power of personal experience to grab their attention.

           Audiences of all ages love stories.  Starting a speech with a story, or better yet, a personal experience you've had (related to your topic), usually makes a sure-fire grabber.

A Final Thought

        From the examples above, I think you can see how a simple but effective grabber (the first part of the S-MAP) can build the speaker's confidence, capture the class's attention, and get the speech off to a  great start.

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