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‹ View all articles 5th September 2013

5 of the Best Speech Opening Lines

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A great speech opening line gets us curious and sets the direction for a powerful speech. Here are some of my favourite opening lines from TED talks - and what we can learn from each.

But whose TED talk was each opening line from? See how many you can recognise and share you favourite openers with me in the comments below.

Guess the Speech: 5 of the best speech opening lines

A: Good morning. How are you? It’s been great, hasn’t it? I’ve been blown away by the whole thing. In fact, I’m leaving.

B: For a long time, there was me, and my body. Me was composed of stories, of cravings, of strivings, of desires of the future. Me was trying not to be an outcome of my violent past, but the separation that had already occurred between me and my body was a pretty significant outcome. Me was always trying to become something, somebody. Me only existed in the trying. My body was often in the way.

C: “Sadly, in the next 18 minutes when I do our chat, four Americans that are alive will be dead from the food that they eat. “

D: Okay, now I don't want to alarm anybody in this room, but it's just come to my attention that the person to your right is a liar. (Laughter) Also, the person to your left is a liar. Also the person sitting in your very seats is a liar. We're all liars. What I'm going to do today is I'm going to show you what the research says about why we're all liars, how you can become a liespotter and why you might want to go the extra mile and go from liespotting to truth seeking, and ultimately to trust building.

E: Imagine a big explosion as you climb through 3,000 ft. Imagine a plane full of smoke. Imagine an engine going clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack, clack. It sounds scary. Well I had a unique seat that day. I was sitting in 1D.

See the answers & my comments on each opener below! 

Answers: 5 of the best opening lines

A: Sir Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity

Deceptively simple, these speech opening lines set a tone for what has become the most viewed TED talk of all. Far from being just ‘throat clearing’, Sir Ken is cleverly opening us up for a talk that will gently but profoundly show us a new way of looking at education. It’s as if we are at a dinner party, being hosted by Sir Ken – he makes us feel comfortable, interested and open all at once. Far from being lectured (which is always a possibility when education is the subject matter of choice), we want to learn and hear more. Very skilful indeed.

B: Eve Ensler: Suddenly, my body

As you’d expect from a the writer of the Vagina Monologues, this speech opening was profound, stark in its honesty and inviting. We empathize and want to know more. Unfortunately this speech suffered from a common affliction that writers face; in getting focused on the precise words of the speech (in this instance, Eve Ensler read her speech), we can get disconnected from the full power of the material. Whilst the words were powerful, I would have enjoyed the rest of this speech more if Eve had given herself permission to find the right words in the moment, rather than needing to be perfectly scripted.

C: Jamie Oliver’s TED Wish: Teach every child about food

One of my favourite ever TED talks, this talk doesn’t pull its punches from the very first line. Jamie Oliver manages to balance preparation (statistics, stories, well developed ideas) with heart in his TED talk. This speech opening line both makes our jaws drop to the ground in shock at such a statistic and opens our heart to the human side of the story. Powerful stuff.

D: Pamela Meyer: How to spot a liar

I love talks that balance humour and connect us to the subject matter in hand – and Pamela Meyer does this perfectly in her TED talk opening line. By bringing a challenge straight to us, in our very seats, Pamela engages us and makes sure the talk is about ‘me’ the audience member. We’re laughing and ready to listen. Great job.

E: Ric Elias: 3 things I learned while my plane crashed

Wow, what an opening! Who wouldn’t want to know more? Ric Elias showed here how powerful it is to jump straight into a story, with no fussing around with thank yous and throat clearing. Unfortunately after the winning start, the rest of the talk lacked some of the gusto and drama of its opening lines. What can we learn from this? Start with power, but make sure you back it up with a journey that will continue to keep us involved all the way through.

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