How to Thank People at the Start of a Speech

Several years ago I attended a speech by the president of a major industry association.  He was speaking at a Rotary Club about the state of his business. After being introduced, he spent the first five minutes of his 20 minute speech thanking people for inviting him.  That’s a quarter of his speech!  And it went downhill from there.

It was a nightmare.

The problem, of course, is the “Thank yous” are wasted time for the overwhelming majority of the people listening. They want to hear what you have to say, not who has helped you along your way.  

We used to tell people to dump all “Thank yous.”  You’re there for your audience. Give out your “thank yous” personally in private. That should be enough to show your gratitude.

But we’ve modified that advice based on the fact that so many people ignore it. The fact is that speakers want to give some “thank yous”.

So here’s what we say now: Thank people for 10 seconds. Pause. Then begin. If you can’t thank everyone in 10 seconds, you simply have too many people to thank. You pause because it gives the audience a clear sense that the real speech is about to begin. The pause says “So we’ve got that out of the way. Now let’s start.”

I love marketing guru Seth Godin’s idea on this subject, which he posted about this week.  He recommends taking photos of all the people you want to thank and projecting them up on the screen in your auditorium prior to your speech. It will save you from having to formally thank them during the speech itself.  As much as I love this creativity, I’m not sure how practical it is for most speakers.

Of course, thanking people in speeches can be appropriate, such as when you’re accepting an award. But those speeches are usually incredibly boring. Think about the Academy Awards.

 Speaking of Academy Awards, here’s the “Thank You Very Much” musical number from the 1970 movie “Scrooge”.  In the song, the people of the town are celebrating the death of Scrooge, the miserable old miser. The song was nominated for best original song but ultimately lost to “For All We Know” from the movie “Love and Other Strangers.

Of course this “Thank You” speech works wonderfully. So you can ignore the above advice if you put your “thank yous” to music. Otherwise, keep it tight.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email