They’re short and not generally substantive. That’s why welcoming speeches don’t tend to get the respect they deserve in the realm of speech making. Seen as what they are though: an important first chance to make a good public impression, and it becomes clear why this deceptively simple task should never be overlooked.
Welcome speeches by definition should be more about the audience than the host. The aim is put invited guests at ease, get the proceedings off to a good start, and to set expectations for what is to come. As important as these goals are, welcome speeches are also opportunities to give the right impression–of the hosts and the individual speaker specifically.
Rush through these opening remarks, and you risk leaving the impression the event isn’t taken all that seriously, or isn’t well organized. Spend too long at the welcoming remarks, and your audience may have cause for concern about whether their time is going to be well spent.
Here are some tips and techniques executives can use for an effective welcome:
Be a good host.
As you compose your remarks, picture yourself hosting a group at your own home. Strive to strike the same tone of good-natured familiarity and ease. By all means, single out special guests, but be sure to include remarks that include everyone as well. Don’t make the list of individual recognition too long or detailed, or you may risk offending those not singled out for recognition.
Keep it short.
Welcome speeches are opening remarks that set a tone, not substantive speeches of any duration. Keep them just long enough to welcome attendees, recognize a few special guests, share your goals for the event and thank everyone for participating. Don’t get into any substantive details of the proceedings.
Do introduce yourself.
Even if you are reasonably certain most in the room know your name and position, do take a moment to give yourself an introduction. This is your opportunity to personalize your welcome and to show your sincere pleasure your guests are there.
Practice good delivery techniques.
Do make sure the audience will be able to hear you from any vantage point. Maintain eye contact as much as possible with your guests during these brief remarks. If possible, practice your remarks at the site of the actual event so that you know where you’ll be standing, whether you’ll be wearing a microphone, and how you’ll sound. Avoid reading your remarks if possible, so you can be sure and sound genuinely welcoming and prepared.
Use humor wisely.
It’s hard to recover from a joke that isn’t received well, so if you’re not comfortable using humor generally in public forums, this isn’t a good place to start. Never open with a joke at someone else’s expense. It’s a good idea to vet your remarks with someone else before taking the stage.
Welcome remarks are an excellent opportunity to showcase your confidence and your goodwill toward your guests. Do spend time preparing as you would any other public speech and make sure that first impression is a powerfully effective one.
Aileen Pincus is President of The Pincus Group Inc., an executive training firm offering media training, presentation skills training, speech training and crisis media communications. She can be reached at www.thepincusgroup.com