Having a well written welcome speech that you’re confident about goes a long way in overcoming public speaking nervousness.
A great welcome speech sets the tone for the conference. It makes everyone feel welcome and creates the appropriate environment for the exchange of knowledge. The speech should broadly outline the contents of the event and, most importantly, make everyone feel excited for what’s to come.
In this article, you will find our best tips to create a successful welcome speech and some examples with analysis for inspiration.
Quick Tips for a successful welcome speech
Formal vs. informal language
The first thing you should decide is whether you want to use formal or informal language. For larger events that include scientists of various fields where everybody might not know each other, you may want to use formal language. For smaller yearly conferences for researchers in your field where most people know each other, it’s common to use informal language.
I find that, in general, a rather informal or casual speech is more successful. That way you set the tone and bring everyone to the same level, promoting questions, comments, and socialization during the event.
Greet and welcome everyone
Start with a warm welcome. As alluded before, this can range from very formal (“Good morning to all attendees”) to informal (“Hello and welcome, everyone!”). These will be your first words, so you need to grab everyone’s attention—use a clear, strong voice.
A smile goes a long way to make everyone feel welcome and in a good mood. Make eye contact as you start addressing the room.
It can be great to inject a bit of humor, if appropriate. It could be something as simple as, “We are lucky to be in such a beautiful location with so many beaches close by. I hope that is not the main reason you’re here!”.
Talk about the event’s history and purpose
Is it a first-time event, a yearly conference put on by a scientific organization? In any case, you’ll want to mention the motivation behind the conference, what brings you together. If the event is related to a specific organization, you can mention its history and purpose.
Mention any distinguished guests
It is common for scientific conferences to have one or more distinguished guests or speakers. Mention them and thank them for accepting the invitation to participate. Make sure you have their names, credentials and affiliations correct.
Thank creators and/or organizers
If the event is being held for the first time, thank the creators by name. Give some words of appreciation to the organizing committee. You don’t need to mention every single person involved, but rather the essential ones.
State the main topic(s)
Mention the main topic(s) of the conference, the common interests for all attendees. For annual conferences of scientific organizations, a specific subject within the field is usually chosen for each year. For example, for an annual meeting of an immunology organization, the year's topic could be “Infectious Diseases” or “Immunotherapies.”
Touch on the agenda
Briefly outline the event’s agenda. You can mention whether there will be sessions with specific (sub)topics, poster presentations, spaces for exchange and networking. Don’t get into too many details. You can direct people to the conference brochure, if there is one, for specifics on the schedule.
End your speech on a high note by getting everyone excited about the talks to come. Highlight all the strengths of the conference: any high-impact research that will be shown, the variety of topics that will be covered, the great number of attendees, the different countries represented.
Introduce the first speaker
If the first speaker follows your welcome speech, don’t forget to introduce him or her. Introduce them with their full name and credentials and give a brief description of their career achievements.
Rehearse a few times
Practice with colleagues and friends to get some feedback and familiarize yourself with your speech. You want to be familiar enough that you don’t need to look down at your notes constantly. However, don’t over rehearse. You don’t want to sound robotic, but rather natural and conversational.
Be sure you know how to pronounce all the names in your speech. Make eye contact with the audience and with specific attendees as you mention their names.
Keep it brief
In general, you should keep your speech short, usually around 5 minutes. Consult with the organizing committee so you know how long they expect you to talk.
In-person vs. virtual event
Virtual events are very common right now and likely will be for a while. This creates some challenges when giving a welcome speech. Making eye contact with the attendees is not possible when you’re on a video call. That being said, you can still give a great speech and get people excited virtually. Just make sure that people can clearly see and hear you before you start.
Welcome speech examples
1. Welcome and Opening Remarks - 2015 COAST/SSEW Symposium
In the above example of opening remarks for a scientific symposium, the speaker starts by welcoming everyone with a smile and lots of eye contact. It seems the attendees are in the same field of research and among familiar faces. Accordingly, her language is informal. She adds a bit of humor when she talks about collecting money in a bowl.
She follows by explaining the origin of the organization that the symposium is for, along with the main topics that will be covered. In the middle, she asks the audience some questions to keep them engaged. Finally, she creates positive expectations by presenting a “sneak peek” of brand-new research and mentioning “leaders” in the field of microbiome.
2. IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering Welcome Speech
Read this welcome speech for an annual international conference.
This seems to be a scientific conference with attendees from various countries and from a broad range of fields. The formal language used is therefore appropriate. The speaker welcomes the attendees and introduces the distinguished keynote speakers.
The origins and goals of the conference are outlined. He broadly describes the topics that will be discussed. Then, he thanks the organizing committee, companies and volunteers involved. Finally, he mentions “internationally notorious speakers,” a great way to spark people’s interest.
3. Welcoming Address | Dale Mullennix
In this welcoming address, the speaker starts by warmly welcoming the audience. He uses rather informal language since it seems this is a regularly held event where most people know each other. He throws in some humor, directly addresses the audience, and asks them questions to grab their attention at the beginning.
By conveying the value that the attendees will find in the lectures to come, he creates anticipation. He makes lots of eye contact throughout and doesn’t even have notes! By the end, he tells a personal story and connects it to the theme of the event.
With these tips and examples, we hope that you are inspired to write a great welcome speech. Remember to keep it brief, conversational, and not overly formal, unless necessary. Eye contact and a smile go a long way.
If you’re looking for more general conference presenting tips, you should read our 15 Best Tips for Presenting at a Conference.