Introduction



The Role of the Introduction

The introduction should convince the audience that your speech will be relevant and useful by providing a general overview of what’s to come.

Learning Objectives

Use the introduction of your speech to convince your audience that you have something worthwhile to say

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The introduction is a sales pitch and a useful outline in one, so it should maintain a good balance of hype and content.
  • The introduction has five important responsibilities: get the audience ‘s attention, introduce the topic, explain its relevance to the audience, state a thesis or purpose, and outline the main points.
  • By the end of the introduction, you should provide a road map that outlines your main points.

Key Terms

  • introduction: A means of presenting one person to another.

Role of the Introduction

The introduction is the best opportunity to convince your audience that you have something worthwhile to say. An introduction can accomplish this by fulfilling five important responsibilities: get the audience’s attention, introduce the topic, explain its relevance to the audience, state a thesis or purpose, and outline the main points. By the end of the introduction, the audience should know where you’re headed and what your speech will cover. If you are giving a persuasive speech, state your thesis in the introduction. If you are giving an informative speech, explain what you will be teaching the audience.

Two speakers are standing in front of a podium during the MIT Energy Innovation Panel.

Speech Introduction: The introduction grabs the audience’s attention and sets the tone for the entire speech.

As you write your introduction, try to answer these questions:

What is the scope of your presentation–how narrow or broad is your topic? How does it relate to the audience? What is at stake for the audience? Do you have any new insights or special perspectives to add to the existing discussion of your topic? Why should the audience listen to you instead of someone else? Will you be informing the audience, or making an argument?

The Road Map

By the end of the introduction, you should provide a brief overview of your main points. This “road map” will help the audience understand the main points in the context of your larger purpose. Without a good map to follow, the audience is liable to get lost along the way. A good introduction is the best way to make sure your message gets through.

In sum, the introduction should:

  • Hook the audience.
  • Describe your topic.
  • Explain how your topic is relevant to the audience.
  • Explain the stakes at hand.
  • Establish credibility: What authority do you have to discuss this topic?
  • State your innovation: What is new or special about your perspective?
  • Lay out a road map of your speech.
  • Outline your main points.
  • State your thesis or purpose.

Writing the Introduction

If you have an anecdote, quote, question, or some other “hook” that inspires you to start writing the introduction, go for it. Don’t take inspiration for granted! In some cases, the right story will set up a natural sequence for your main points, launching the speech effortlessly. Otherwise, it may be easier to begin the introduction after you write about your main points. Working through the main points will set the destination of the speech, and it doesn’t hurt to have a clear idea of where you’re going before you set out. If you finish writing the body of your speech and come back to the introduction uninspired, refer to the chapter, “Getting Attention and Interest” for more ideas about effective openings.

Getting Attention and Interest

In order to win the audience’s attention and interest, write a dynamite opening and then give a quick overview of your speech.

Learning Objectives

Give examples of ways to hook your audience’s attention with the first words of your speech

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The opening of a speech is the most important time to get the audience ‘s attention and generate interest.
  • One way to grab the audience’s attention is to begin with something surprising, shocking, or controversial.
  • If a subdued approach is more appropriate, try opening with a question. In academic contexts, it may be best to start by situating your talk within the existing conversation.

Key Terms

  • anecdote: An account or story which supports an argument, but which is not supported by scientific or statistical analysis.

Getting Attention and Interest

Public speaking is essentially the art of convincing an audience to listen to you against all odds. How can you pry your listeners away from their day-to-day concerns? What would make you the most interesting person in their lives—at least until you finish your speech? You need to act fast, since first impressions tend to overshadow all other impressions. The opening of your speech will determine the audience’s willingness to listen. Learn how to deliver a dynamite opening, and you can make that fact work in your favor.

A woman holds a small present in her hands.

Attracting Interest: Getting the audience’s attention is like showing someone a wrapped present. It should peak their interest.

Strategies for the Opening

Here are eight ways to open a speech with panache:

1. Make a provocative or controversial statement. You can back down from an extreme position later, but controversy is an effective way to capture the audience’s attention.

Example: The United States should control its population growth by imposing fines on parents who have more than one child.

2. State a surprising or little-known fact.

Example: Did you know that eating blueberries can actually make you smarter by boosting neurotransmitters in your brain?

3. Open with a quote. If you can’t think of an attention-grabbing sentence yourself, get some outside assistance (with proper attribution, of course).

Example: Oscar Wilde once said, “Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.”

4. Open with a brief anecdote.

Example: I was driving home from work on a cold, rainy day when I saw a scrawny cat by the side of the road. Her ribs were sticking out under her filthy, matted fur; she was clearly starving. I made the split-second decision to find a home for this cat, pulled over, lifted her up into the passenger seat, and began a journey that would change my life in ways I never could have imagined.

5. Make a case for your topic ‘s relevance to the reader.

Example: Genetically modified foods are filling grocery stores all over the country; they are unavoidable at this point. If you’ve eaten something today, you’ve eaten something genetically modified today.

6. Take a stand against something. Don’t attack a “straw man,” or a vague, made-up antagonist—be specific.

Example: The hazing rituals of this university’s fraternities and sororities are getting worse, not better.

7. Stake a position for yourself within an ongoing debate.

Example: Corporate culture is evolving toward workspaces that encourage collaboration, such as open floor plans and inviting communal areas. Our company has resisted that trend. We still have an old-school lineup of offices with closed doors surrounding a honeycomb of high-walled cubicles, and guess what—the employees never mingle! I believe it is time to give the new workplace order a chance.

8. State a question.

Example: When was the last time you donated money to charity?

Repetition

Repetition is boring, right? Who wants to hear the same thing more than once? Actually, experienced public speakers learn that repetition doesn’t have to be redundant—there’s more to it than saying the same thing twice. In this culture of distraction, choosing an anchoring word, phrase, or idea and returning to it periodically throughout your speech can help the audience find the connection between different points. Think about how it feels to listen to a good song: each verse builds the story with new lyrics, and then the chorus comes back to ground the song and bring it back home.

Finding Inspiration

If you get stuck, look to other speakers for inspiration. If you search video hosting sites such as YouTube and Vimeo for speeches, you can watch seasoned public speakers dealing with the very same problems you’re facing. Decide for yourself what works and what falls flat.

Establishing Credibility

To establish credibility, public speakers should earn the audience’s trust and respect by presenting themselves as authorities on the topic.

Learning Objectives

Illustrate how to establish credibility and authority with your audience, even if they start out skeptical

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Don’t rely on the content of your speech to gain credibility with the audience. Self-presentation is important too, since the audience will start judging you before you begin speaking.
  • Establish your authority to speak about your topic by stating the source of your knowledge: experience, training, or research.
  • When you speak to a skeptical audiences, begin by finding common ground. Acknowledge the appeal of opposing perspectives before you make a strong case for your own opinion.

Key Terms

  • credibility: The objective and subjective components of the believability of a source or message.

Establishing Credibility

In the realm of public speaking, the message is inseparable from the messenger. If audiences don’t trust you, they won’t listen to you. Unfortunately, their trust is based on superficial, silly, and irrelevant factors in addition to legitimate concerns. First impressions are hard to overcome, and audiences will begin judging you before you even have a chance to introduce yourself. Preparing a good speech is not enough to gain the audience’s trust and respect–you also have to prepare yourself. Establishing credibility may seem like a daunting task. After all, different people are looking for different things. How could you possibly please them all? Fortunately, public speakers can rely on a set of general guidelines to establish credibility in a variety of situations.

Self-Presentation

Self-presentation is a crucial factor in a public speaker’s credibility. The following strategies can help speakers convince their listeners that they deserve trust and respect:

  1. Dress the part. Find out how formal the occasion is and style yourself accordingly. Keep it simple: loud patterns, bright colors, flashy jewelry, and revealing styles may distract the audience from your message. When in doubt, err on the side of formal professional attire.
  2. Look at the audience. Speakers who make eye contact with the audience appear more open, trustworthy, and confident. Even if you are reading from a script or consulting cue cards, look up frequently to maintain your connection with the audience.
  3. Speak loudly, clearly, and confidently. Confidence is contagious–if you have confidence, the audience will catch it easily.
  4. State your credentials. Trust is contagious too–audiences will trust you more readily if you can prove that other people value your expertise. Credentials include relevant degrees, certifications, testimonials, recommendations, work experience, volunteering experience, and informally, other types of personal experience.
  5. Reveal a personal connection to your topic. What is at stake for you? How has the subject affected your life? If it is appropriate, share a personal anecdote that illustrates your relationship to the topic.
  6. Establish common ground with your audience. What problems do you have in common? What goals do you have in common?
A man in a suit stands with his hands resting on a conference table.

Professional Attire: A speaker can establish credibility by dressing professionally and making eye contact with the audience.

Establishing Authority

Why should the audience listen to anything you have to say? The burden of proof is on you, so you need to make a case for the value of your experience, training, or research. Tell the audience how you became an authority on your topic. Don’t expect anyone to simply take your word for it, though: bring in outside sources to boost your credibility. Demonstrate that you are familiar with the conversations that surround your topic. Mention or quote other authorities on your topic to show that you are familiar with their contributions. Also, show your audience that you understand how your topic fits into a larger context. Look at the history of your issue and its treatment in other contexts or cultures. Winston Churchill’s maxim, “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see,” is a great case for the relationship between context and wisdom.

  1. State the source of your authority: experience, training, or research
  2. Refer to outside authorities
  3. Put your perspective in context

Gaining Credibility with a Skeptical Audience

If you are speaking to a skeptical or hostile audience, begin by finding common ground. Appeal to shared beliefs and values, and identify a goal that you can all agree on. Refer to this shared goal throughout your speech to remind your audience that, ultimately, you want the same thing. Show skeptics that you are motivated by a sincere desire to find the best answer and that, as a result, you have carefully considered their perspective. You will lose credibility if you dismiss opposing views offhand. If you can demonstrate that you understand why opposing views are attractive, you will have more credibility when you make a case for your own position. If you fail to address common points of contention, your audience will have a perfect excuse to resist your argument. In sum:

  1. Find common ground
  2. Appeal to shared beliefs and values
  3. Identify a shared goal
  4. Return to this shared goal throughout the speech
  5. Demonstrate that you have considered other perspectives on the issue
  6. Show that you understand the appeal of opposing positions
  7. Make a case for your position
image

Speaker at Social Media Art Camp: This woman knows her audience. She would have lost credibility dressed in a suit.

Introducing the Topic, Thesis, and Main Points

Provide an overview of your topic, thesis, and main points early on to show your listeners why they should be interested in your speech.

Learning Objectives

Identify your topic, thesis, and main points early in your speech

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Describe the scope of your speech when you introduce your topic.
  • State your thesis or purpose clearly and with emphasis in one to three sentences.
  • Provide an overview of your main points before you launch into the body of the speech.

Key Terms

  • topic: Subject; theme; a category or general area of interest.
  • thesis: A concise summary of the argument or main points, usually one to three sentences long.

Introducing the Topic, Thesis, and Main Points

Public speakers should introduce a topic and state a thesis (or purpose) as soon as possible. After the attention-grabbing opening, there is only a small window of time in which to convince the audience that you have something useful to say.

A woman speaking from a podium.

Introducing the Topic and Thesis: Public speakers need to introduce the topic and state the thesis as soon as possible to keep the audience’s attention.

Introducing the Topic

  • Name your topic,
  • Explain the topic at a level that is appropriate for your audience,
  • Define key concepts,
  • Explain how the topic relates to your listeners and remind them of their stake in the matter.

Introducing the Thesis

Make your initial thesis statement (or the statement of purpose in an informative speech) short and sweet.

Remember: the thesis statement should summarize your argument in one to three sentences.

Introducing the Main Points

Before your introduction is finished, give the audience an overview of your main points. It may help to refer to your outline, which should provide a concise list of your main points, in order. Translate that list into complete sentences, and voila! You will have a good overview.

Example: Topic, Thesis, and Main Points

Vitamin D deficiency may be the hottest topic in nutrition today. Scientists are flooding academic journals, fashion magazines, and talk shows with arguments about all things D, ranging from sunscreen to supplements.

No one is disputing its importance: vitamin D helps with calcium absorption, promotes bone health, boosts immunity, and reduces inflammation. That is why recent studies estimating that 10 to 75 percent of Americans are deficient in vitamin D are so scary.

Hold on—10 to 75? That range is huge!

In order to discover the extent of the problem, we need to take a closer look at those numbers—and that is exactly what we will do in this presentation. I have prepared a chronological overview and analysis of methodologies for measuring vitamin D levels in the U.S. population, beginning with a study conducted at this university.

Analysis

The opening of this speech names a topic (vitamin D deficiency), explains its importance, explains its relevance to the audience, and then states the purpose of the presentation—to investigate the improbably wide range of deficiency-rate estimates from different studies—and outlines the main points.