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HOW TO Improve Your Opening General Session

It’s Time To Re-Think Your Opening General Session

As a funny, motivational speaker I have attended thousands of meetings and conferences. About half of the time I am the opening general session speaker because they want someone who is funny, inspiring, and set the tone for the conference. All of this is very nice. It’s a fun way to make a living.

It also means, though, that I have seen a lot of amazing openings. I’ve probably seen more openings that need to scrapped and built fresh for the next year.

This article is for people who want to make their opening general session excellent.

Most Opening Sessions Start Out Boring

The biggest problem with planning opening sessions is that there is no planning. Time and time again I’ve seen where the opening sessions for a conference or meeting are simply a redo of the previous year. I’ve been at sessions that have been exactly the same for the past 30 years. No, I’m not kidding. Thirty years. This isn’t planning. This is not tradition. This is just a bad idea.

All of us have learned a lot about how the meeting and convention industry works. We’ve improved. It’s time to lose the phrase, “But we always do it this way!”  It’s time to start fresh.

What, you may be asking, am I seeing that is so bad?  What are the exact things to be avoided by planners?  I’m glad you asked.

The Problem Is That You’re Probably Not Considering the First Timers (And New-ish Attendees.)

Consider all of the characteristics that should be part of your overall meeting or convention. Now consider how many of those things, though important, are boring. Further consider how many of those “required” components of your conference are only relevant to long time members.  It’s time to consider how your opening session plays for the newer attendees and/or association members.

For example, I was recently doing my motivational keynote speaker thing at a conference where I swear everything for the first hour was irrelevant to newer members or employees.

Here is a sampling of the things that you need NOT include in your opening session.

• A speech from the outgoing president about how great it was to serve the association.

• Inviting members of the Board on stage to thank them for their service.

• A speech by the incoming president, featuring her new platform and ideas for the future of the organization or association.

• Remembrances of recently deceased members or officers.

• Awards for …well…anything at all.

All of these components are important, and you’ll have to include them in your conference.  Just don’t lead with them.  What do they have in common?  They are ONLY relevant to long term members. The new people don’t know the past or new president, they don’t know the board members, they don’t know the people who passed away, the award winners… And they don’t care.

You want them to care.  And if you can turn them into long-term members they will care. It’s not going to happen at an irrelevant opening session, however.  So keep this stuff out of the opening.

What Is Your Goal for the Opening Session?

It’s to set the tone.  It’s to let your attendees know this conference is going to be the absolute best ever. It’s to make people feel glad they came on time because the value and return on investment started at minute one.  And it’s to start planting the seed in every person’s mind, “Gosh I’m glad I came on time because this meeting is already valuable. I need to make sure I’m here every year going forward.”

Too often a huge percentage of your audience is thinking the absolute opposite. “Darn it I should’ve slept in. None of this applies to me or is interesting to me. There is no value to me so far. I wonder when and if they will start delivering on their promise of creating a valuable meeting or conference.   Did I make a mistake by attending?”

What Do You Do with Those Boring-But-Important Segments?

Golly I’m glad you asked?  You think like a comedian and tuck them in the middle. Allow me to explain.

If you’re an entertainer (or a funny magician like me!), you’re constantly working on new jokes, punch, lines, or bits. Your new material is never going to be as good as your material that has been honed over time.  So you take your new jokes and tuck them in the middle where nobody notices. You’ve started very strong. You’re going to end very strong. You put the stuff that is a little weaker in the middle, because you know that people will always forgive you if you have a strong opening and a strong closing.

Yes, of course it’s crucial to thank your volunteers. You need to give the outgoing president a chance to receive accolades. And yes, you need to acknowledge the loss of beloved members of your organization. My best advice is to take a two pronged approach.

1.  As I said above, tuck these segments in the middle of the meeting.

2.  Don’t clump them all together.

No comedian will take 30 minutes of their weakest material and put them all in one section together. No, you spread that stuff out. You need to do an audit about which of your segments will be fast paced and fun. And which are important yet boring. Mix them up. It’s that simple. Just mix them up and put them in the middle.

And for extra credit, look for segments you can sort of hide.   Can you let your sponsors talk immediately after lunch when people are digesting? Can you have the remembrance of your deceased members during a meal?

And finally, can you be creative?  The best example of using creativity to make a boring part fun was at an association that, according to its bylaws, was required to update the entire membership on its financials. This was required, but obviously exceptionally boring. What did they do? They had their chief financial officer come out and read the financials while two jugglers literally tossed juggling pins in front of and behind this officer. The crowd howled.  The people who WANTED to hear the numbers were satisfied.  And nobody thought, “Oh man, I should have skipped this session.”

My Advice in a Nutshell?

Think of your meeting or conference as a show. Ask yourself how you can have a strong opening. How can you close in a way that makes a lasting impression? And then what will you do to include the required-yet-boring sections in a way that won’t exhaust your members?

And, my dear reader, if you are organizing your opening general session by saying, “Well, we always do it this way…all we need to do is change the names and people involved and we’re done!”, then you’re doing it wrong.


Hire a proven, funny, upbeat and inspiring opening motivational speaker.  Hmmm….need ideas?  Call me.  (Can you tell my tongue is in my cheek?)   Seriously though, I’ve done this a bunch. I know how to set the tone for a conference in a way that will make everybody ready to learn, eager to network, and give you (the meeting planner) a high five on the way out the door.  Wouldn’t it be cool if everybody left asking you, “Where did you find Brad?  He’s perfect!?”  Of course it would.  I can help.

Yes, I’m biased.  But seriously, call me.

We’ve got this!


Brad Montgomery presents funny, motivational keynote speeches about the people side of performance. He helps your attendees get more out of themselves and more out of those people around them. Besides, his clients say he is hilarious. If you want all of your attendees, regardless of their age and experience level to be thrilled with your opening general session, give us a call.

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Biography of a Motivational Speaker

Bio of a really Funny Motivational Speaker

Funny Motivational Keynote Speaker Brad Montgomery is an award-winning speaker.   He speaks to audiences across the globe (and across the USA), and is based in Denver, Colorado.

Although he speaks to audiences in nearly every industry, he is known as a funny health care speaker, a education speaker for teachers, a real estate speaker, and a sales speaker.   He got his start as a magician & comedian, but now is known almost exclusively as keynote speaker.

He speaks both at live, in-person events, as well as online and virtually as a zoom speaker. No matter what you’re trying to accomplish with your audience, if you’re ready to invest in your people, give us a call now.

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