Create an Instant Connection with your Customized Opening

A good customized opening beats a great canned one

Why? It’s because audiences want to know that this message is designed just for them. They don’t want to think it’s something you have given hundreds of times even if you have.

The Customized Call Back Opening

One of the most effective instant connection tools you can use during your opening is what I call the Customized Call Back. A call back is just what it sounds like; you bring something back up that happened in the past that’s related to the event. With your opening, there are several areas in which you can make call backs, and here are three of my favorites:

  • Something leading up to the event
  • Something that was mentioned as you were being introduced  
  • Something that happened earlier during the event


Let’s listen to examples of each.

Something leading up to the event

When you open your speech, you can call back to a story about something that happened behind the scenes that led up to that moment. For example, I spoke once to all the personnel in a school district in Virginia. The Superintendent (Mr. Turner) had been very meticulous with me throughout the weeks leading up to the event because he was nervous whether I would meet their needs.

Also, you’ll need to know that he gave out service pins that morning to certain staff, which allowed them to go home early that day (just that day). I called back to both of these events during my opening. Here’s how it went:

[audio:|titles=Mr Turner ]

As you heard, the audience loved it. However, what’s more important is that they felt the speech was designed for them.

Here’s another very quick example of a speech in Minnesota where I used this technique of calling back to something leading up to the event.


Something that happened as you were being introduced

Many times your introducers will say something (planned or unplanned) that you can call back to during your opening.  For example, I spoke recently to a company in Tulsa, Oklahoma and my introducer mentioned that “Next month we’ll have the winner of the TV show ‘The Biggest Loser’ as our speaker.” I was standing backstage when I heard the audience erupt in applause and get very excited for next month’s speaker. I figured this would be an effective quick call back that would create an instant connection. Here’s how it went:

[audio:|titles=Biggest Loser]

That call back was the beginning of a connection that deepened over the 45 minutes. I knew the Biggest Loser was on their minds and so I followed my own advice that

If they think it, you state it


Something that happened earlier during the event

Finally, at times you have situations you can call back to that happened during the event. This is very effective especially if the event lasts for more than one day. For example, years ago I gave a few speeches at an event in Toronto and something very interesting happened to me in-between the days of the conference.

In addition to my mishap, there was also a gentleman whose job it was to promote the next event and he did it over and over again seemingly during every break in the conference until it got to the point where I’m sure people were thinking, “Okay, okay, we’ve got it!” Well, I felt like I should call back to both of these situations as I opened. Here’s how it went:


Those call backs created an instant connection and I hadn’t even finished my opening. That’s what will happen for you when you use customized call backs.

But there’s a Caveat

People remember best what they hear first and what they hear last, which means the first 30 seconds of your speech can either build a connection or dig a hole. Therefore, it is indeed a risk to make the absolute first thing you say be one of these call backs. It’s a risk because you obviously haven’t used the call backs before because they’re only related specifically to this event. So I only use these call backs when I feel there is a very high probability that they’ll produce a laugh. However, what if I don’t have that degree of confidence in the call back?

Here’s my solution. Often what I’ll do is make the call back the second thing I say rather than the first. In other words, I’ll open up with my sure-fire content and then, once I get that initial connection, I’ll dive into the call back. Here’s an example from Miami where I opened with my planned opening and then (a few minutes later) called back to something specific to the event. :

[audio:|titles=Miami ]

Another Possible Problem?

You might find yourself asking, “Craig, but what do these call backs have to do with your message? Shouldn’t all of our humor relate to our message?”

Well, there are several schools of thought on this, but here’s where I stand. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, I’m just saying it’s what works for me over and over again.

1. During your opening, please remember this:

Mindset trumps message

In other words, I learned from Aristotle that our first objective is to get the audience into the right mindset so they’ll be open to our message. So even though some of those call backs don’t pertain specifically to my message, they still get my audience into the mindset to receive my message. That’s what’s most important.

2. You can easily find ways to tie each call back into your message if you deem it necessary. For example, after the Miami Heat example, I could have easily said something like, “Let’s take a look at how you can go to number one in any endeavor you choose. You can do this through what I like to call my 4 Rs to Remarkable Results.”

That’s a great way to set up the learning.

Final Thoughts

 Customized call backs in your opening are very effective when done well. Keep in mind, they don’t have to be perfectly presented. Your audience knows this is not something you’ve been planning for years and they will appreciate the customization and the effort to  meet them where they are.

 Strong Suggestion: For the first few times you try this, don’t make your call back be the exact first thing you say. Open with your sure-fire content and then dive into the customization. It will pay off in wonderful ways!

Craig Valentine

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