Join Judy Steiner-Williams for an in-depth discussion in this video Writing the introduction, part of Writing Speeches.
- You're interested in your topic, you know how it's organized, and you know that you probably know more about the topic than anyone in your audience. But your audience won't automatically be interested in your speech just because you are. Your goal is to make the audience want to listen. So, first you have to get their attention. Next, they need to know what your thesis is. You have to help them understand how you organized your speech and how those main ideas connect.
Also, you need to convince your listeners that you do know what you're talking about. Generally, the introduction should be about 10 to 15% of your speech. So, for example, if your speech is five to seven minutes, you have about a minute to accomplish all of this. That's why the introduction is so important. It's so important, that even experienced speakers prepare the introduction carefully. They realize that regardless of the speech body, the first major hurdle is to actually engage the audience.
Even though the introduction is the first thing your audience hears, it will probably will be prepared after you write the speech body. You have a variety of techniques to use. Tell a story, give an illustration, or ask a question. Share a personal experience or give an interesting quote or a statistic. For example, the introduction may be serious or humorous, but it should not be gimmicky, such as having audience members stand, try to touch their toes and then say "now that you're awake we'll talk about "the importance of sleep." It needs to connect to your topic.
You may get your audience's attention, but if you don't quickly tie that attention-getter to your topic, you will probably lose the audience's interest. Someone could write "FREE MONEY!" on the board. That would probably get our attention, but if the topic's about grooming your own dog, that might be a stretch to connect the attention-getter and the topic. And it should be something with which you're personally comfortable. If you're an extrovert, you might be more comfortable opening with a personal funny story than an introvert might be.
And a special note about telling a joke: Most speech writers suggest that an opening joke be avoided. Not everyone has the same sense of humor, and what you think is humorous may actually offend others. The words in that introduction should be framed carefully. The first words should be strong. When you actually present your speech, be sure to use those strong opening words rather than "can you hear me?" or "okay," or even "I'd like to begin with an opening example." Just begin with the example.
Or "before I start I'd like to say." As soon as a word comes from your mouth, you have started. And you can quickly lose credibility with comments such as: "I'm really nervous" or "where are my notes?" or "someone else is probably better qualified than I am." So, be sure those first words out of your mouth are effective ones. Once you have the audience's attention then you need immediately to get the audience interested by previewing the body of your speech. Identify the main points in the order in which you will present them, and maybe why you chose that order, most costly method to least costly, or across the United States from coast to coast, for example.
Now will your audience believe you? Why should they listen to you? What evidence can you provide? First, be well-prepared, appear confident, and maybe share with your audience your personal experience. Maybe you've been a rock climber for five years, or you personally learned to groom your own dog and have saved hundreds of dollars. Let's draft a couple possible introductions. First, the attention-getter. Ever heard the song "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?" If comfortable with it you could actually sing the first few words.
Then the main topic is presented, followed by a personal example. And then the thesis statement that gives your audience the road map for the body of your speech. Here's a possible intro for the rock climbing. This example begins with an attention-getting personal story. "When I was 13 years old, I went with my Boy Scout troop "to a rock climbing facility- and I was hooked." Then the speaker establishes his credibility as a current rock climbing instructor, followed by the thesis which introduces the three body sections.
These examples meet all the requirements of an effective introduction. An attention-getting opening, the purpose and the organizational plan are clear, and credibility of the speaker is established, and each is under one minute for the five to seven minute final speech. Those speakers will be off to a good start.
- Choosing a topic
- Composing a thesis
- Organizing the speech
- Outlining the body
- Finishing with a strong ending
- Incorporating research
- Adapting to different audience sizes, attitudes, and expectations
- Writing for different occasions
- Preparing notes and visuals