We work with a lot of executives at The Pincus Group who are called upon to deliver welcome speeches at industry conferences and major events. Usually, we’re working with these executives on honing key note speeches or business presentations. During that coaching, they’ll often casually mention the welcome speech they’ve been asked to deliver but usually consider it a far lower priority.
Here’s why that’s a mistake. Don’t minimize the opportunity you have in that welcome speech to make a first impression with your audience that will shape their views of you and the entire conference. In his book “Blink”Malcolm Gladwell explores the power of what’s known in psychology as “thin slicing”, the ability we all have to make sense of situations on the “thinnest slice” of experience. Gladwell details fascinating examples of that phenomenon at work, but anyone who engages in public speaking needs to understand the opportunity it presents.
A warm and engaging welcome speech confirms to the audience their time will be well spent. Those positive expectations transfer to you, the speaker, so take your preparations seriously. Here’s some tips for a winning welcome speech:
- You’re a host, so remember to act like one. Think about how you’d welcome any guest; would you toss off a perfunctary “so glad to see you”, or would you take a moment to let your guest know you don’t regard this as just another visit? There’s always something special or unique about the moment, the gathering, and what brought you all here. Identify it for everyone so they can appreciate it (and you).
- It’s always about them. Position everything you say from the audience’s perspective, not your own. For instance, if you were welcoming an audience to a conference hosted by your company, resist the temptation to center your remarks on that. Focus instead on what your audience will gain in the time ahead, not on what it means to you or your company.
- Keep it brief. Remember, you’re there to set the tone for the conference or appearance–You’re not the ‘opening act.’ You want to welcome your ‘guests’ and set expectations for the event ahead by sharing the bigger picture with them. Don’t literally run down the agenda ahead; summarize what you want your audience to take away from their time with you. Keep the pace of the event from dragging at the outset with a brief but positive welcome.
- The personal is powerful. Let your enthusiasm show–it’ll be contagious. Don’t hesitate to let your audience see a different side of you, because personal connections are often the draw for audiences at large events.
- Practice makes perfect. Take your role and your remarks seriously and make sure you’re prepared for your moment in the spotlight. Don’t ever “wing it”. Don’t read your remarks or you’ll come off sounding remote and scripted. Your goal is to decide the essence of what you want to say and that practice it enough that you can deliver it ‘in the moment’, without memorization.
Remember to have fun! Your audience is going to take it’s cue from you. If you look and sound like you genuinely are welcoming, you’ll be on the right track for a powerfully effective performance.