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Speech Introductions Help

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Updated on Sep 28, 2011

Introduction to Speech Introductions

To persuade a man, you must first gain his attention.

—Ancient Proverb

An introduction simply introduces: It introduces something new, or it introduces some new element of something already known. Learn how to get and hold the audience's attention by creating a strong introduction.

You might be wondering why you're writing your introduction last, rather than first. After all, the introduction is the opening of your speech, so wouldn't it make more sense to begin at the beginning?

The introduction of your speech tells your audience where you'll be going and how you'll get there—but you can't really be sure of those details until you have actually written the speech! For example, the introduction to this book was the very last thing I wrote, even though I worked from an outline. Books and speeches in some measure write themselves, and you cannot be entirely sure of what your final product will be until it's finished.

Therefore, it makes more sense to write your introduction after you know clearly what it is that you'll be introducing. And now that you've written the bulk of your speech, you're ready to do that.

To summarize the role of your introduction: "Tell them what you're going to tell them; tell them; then tell them what you told them." In fact, the introduction is similar to the conclusion in many ways. You'll state your thesis, outline the major points, and explain how your topic will be of value to the audience. The only thing missing is a call to action, and even that has a counterpart when you give them a reason to listen. Here are the major things to accomplish in your introduction:

  • Keep the audience's attention
  • State your credentials
  • Introduce your topic or thesis
  • Introduce your major sub-points
  • Give them a reason to listen

Before the Speech

Keep the Audience's Attention

When you first walk to the front to give your speech, you will have the audience's attention—so your job is to keep it! Understand, however, that they may be paying attention for all the wrong reasons. They might wonder who that stranger is, or they might wonder why you were selected to speak instead of them. They might be evaluating your taste in fashion, checking your ring finger to see if you're married, comparing you to the previous speaker, or admiring your new haircut. And a few might even be wondering what interesting things you're going to say.

Whatever their reason for paying attention, you don't want to waste that moment. The trick is to get the audience to stop paying attention to you and start paying attention to your words. Actually, the first part of that equation is fairly simple; the fact is, the moment you start to speak, most of the audience will lose interest in whatever had their attention a moment before. Your job is to transfer that attention to your words and not let it wander away.

Here are some techniques you can use to accomplish that task:

  • Use a quotation. You've probably noticed that each chapter in this book starts with a quotation. Notice that each is short, capturing the essence of the lesson in a few words. Many are also humorous. These are good guidelines in finding suitable quotations.
  • Tell an anecdote or joke. Like the quotation, however, make it short and to the point. It should lead naturally into the topic that you'll be speaking about.
  • Cite a startling fact. It can be a real attention-getter to start with something like this: "We all use toothpaste, but did you know that potassium cyanide is the main ingredient in some brands?" Just make sure that your facts are correct.
  • Cite a historic event. This is particularly useful on special occasions. "Just ten years ago today, this lovely couple first met at the National Pie-Eating finals."
  • Cite a current event. This is a very useful way to introduce a persuasive speech. "In light of the recent events in Washington, it is our duty to consider ways to reform our judicial system."
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