There have been many articles, even here on Best Delegate that talk about making speeches. However, none have been focused directly on the much feared “opening speeches.” A little bit about me – as the President of the General Assembly at THIMUN Singapore X (2014), I had the privellage of listening to at least 160 speeches from member nations and other non-governmental organization. Here are some definitive tips to use when making an opening speech:
Writing the Speech
1. Know the details
At some conferences, only the General Assembly delegates make opening speeches. In others, all committees have their own speeches. Make sure you know that you have to make a speech. In addition, make sure you know how long your speech needs to be. If you don’t know, stick to 50 seconds to one minute, though speeches in specialized committees are known to last from 1:30 – 3 minutes.
2. Focus on one topic only
We all don’t prepare a resolution for each and every topic to be debated at a committee. Focus on the issue that matters to your member nation the most and how that relates to the topics to be debated at the conference. When trying to get people to listen, depth is more important than breadth.
Some may argue that the purpose of an opening speech is to show your knowledge on everything – but for me, an opening speech is there to impress, to establish yourself as a leader and a good orator, which is something all committees love and need.
3. Word limit and time
We’ll talk about pacing later, but many people ask how many words is a good guideline for a one minute speech. If you are talking at the proper, slow pace – 150 words maximum is a good idea. It’s important to practice your speech before you deliver your speech, but you can bet that 150 words for one minute is a good idea. Remember, it’s about impact and depth, not breadth.
Choose a font that you are most comfortable with, preferably Times New Roman or Arial, and make it 16 size font, justified, and 1.5 spaced. This could apply to other speeches you make as well. If you need to do so, bold, underline, or make notes after printing to make sure you know which words to emphasize or be careful in pronouncing. This format allows for you to be able to read everything clearly in the confusion of nervousness or unexpected events.
5. Make it interesting, but not too “interesting”
It’s always nice to hear a speech that does not start with “Good afternoon fellow delegates, esteemed Chairs, and distinguished guests.” Be creative with your entry by introducing the topic straight out.
Example: December 26th, 2004 is a day every expert in this room will never forget. 283,000 people were killed when an 9.1 magnitude earthquake caused one of the largest tsunamis in human history.
By introducing the issue with a “slammer,” you will gain everyone’s attention.
Most Chairs, including myself find it extraordinarily cheesy when someone makes another donut, mini-skirt, or Gandalf reference in their speech. Don’t be pretentious, cheesy, or vain in your speech, the opening speech isn’t the occasion for that and will make you look bad.
Delivering the speech
1. Practice and be prepared
Make sure you practice at least one day in advance. Print your opening speech – it’s unprofessional to use an electronic device! Timing is especially important. You don’t want to work hard on your speech only for the Chair to ask you to “come to your closing remarks.” Make sure you have necessary items, be it your glasses or a reading light if necessary.
2. Body Language
You aren’t expected to make full eye contact during the speech nor are you expected to be as comfortable as the late Steve Jobs presenting the iPad. However, make sure you spend at least three quarters of the time looking at your audience.
If you’re unsure about what to do with your hands, put them on the podium. If you’re feeling more comfortable, use hand gestures. Never ever put your hands to your side or in your pocket.
3. Tone and Pace
I always tell Chairs I am training and delegates I’m helping that when they speak, they should be able to speak clearly and slowly enough for somebody to be able to copy what they have said word by word on paper. If you’re done saying 150 words in 30 seconds, you need to speak slowly. Speaking quick is not a speaking style – it’s distracts from your message and makes you seem like you want to end the speech as soon as possible.
Make sure you are talking into the microphone if there is one, and projecting your voice outwards. This does not mean shouting nor does it mean talking to yourself qualifies as making a speech.
4. Be confident
When the Chair calls your nation’s or organization’s name, walk up to the podium with confidence. Shoulders back, back straight, and walk at a good pace with confidence and preparedness. It definitely makes a difference seeing a confident speaker walk up and ready to make a speech rather than a scared speaker scurrying up to the podium.
5. Let mistakes happen
If you have taken all these things into consideration, you should be fine. If you speak too quickly or speak too slowly and get told to come to your closing remarks, that is fine. Take a mistake and don’t do anything with it. Move on.
Do not cringe to yourself or gesture that you’ve made a mistake, most people don’t even realize.
An opening speech is a small task that requires a lot of thoughtful planning. Stand out in the crowd and don’t make a speech someone else could have made with their eyes closed. Think about it and deliver it well, and the committee you’re in will be impressed and want to get to know you.