Purpose of a Speech Introduction

Learning Objectives

Explain the purpose of a speech introduction.

For those new to public speaking, an introduction may seem like an afterthought to a well-researched and organized speech. Seasoned speakers can tell you, however, that having a well-thought-out and well-delivered introduction is one of the most important aspects of a successful speech. After all, the introduction is where the audience makes a decision about you and your topic. Although the introduction takes no longer than 10–15% of your total speech time, it must be thoughtfully constructed in order to convince your audience that you and your topic are worth listening to.

An introduction must achieve five goals in a short amount of time:

A squirrel raising one paw

OK, it’s a squirrel that looks like it’s hailing a cab. But it got your attention, right?

Goal 1: Get the audience’s attention

Although you might be thinking of nothing but your speech in the moments before and during it, your audience is likely thinking about something else. In a speech class, they could be thinking about the long list of chores or obligations they have, a recent conversation, another class or assignment, or even their own speeches. Even though you, the speaker, are seemingly the only thing standing in front of them and speaking, you must wade through a sea of distractions to actually get their undivided attention. To help you do so, there are a number of useful attention getting strategies; we’ll discuss these strategies on the following page.

Goal 2: Establish credibility

Credibility, or ethos, is considered one of the three cornerstones of an effective orator and the introduction is where a speaker’s credibility is established with their audience. Establishing credibility, however, demands a nuanced combination of both verbal and nonverbal communication that demonstrates the speaker’s competence, trustworthiness, and caring and goodwill toward the audience members.

Man with a nametag that says "Expert"

Competence is sometimes conferred by titles, degrees, or publications; other times it has to be established by the speaker.

  • Competence refers to the level of expertise or knowledge the audience perceives the speaker to have in the subject matter they are discussing. It can be established when the speaker has a legitimate title reflective of expertise in the subject matter or when the speaker can prove extensive research or personal experience in the subject matter.
  • Trustworthiness refers to whether the audience perceives the speaker as honest. Unfortunately,  sometimes an audience will remain skeptical due to the topic or previous rumors or perceptions of the speaker. However, a speaker can work to build trustworthiness by using only credible, unbiased sources, balancing sources, and fact checking. A trustworthy speaker also will avoid using information out of context and avoid using logical fallacies.
  • Caring and goodwill refers to how the speaker is perceived as caring about and having the best interest of the audience members, rather than trying to manipulate the audience. Thoughtful audience analysis evident in examples, argument structure, and impact statements will establish caring and goodwill.

Goal 3: Provide a reason to listen

If your attention getting strategy was successful, you now hold the attention of the audience. During this brief window, you must convince them to continue paying attention to your speech by illustrating the importance, timeliness, exigency, and relevance of your topic in direct relation to your audience. A good speaker will use audience analysis to discover ways in which the topic directly impacts the audience.

Goal 4: Reveal the thesis

The introduction should quickly get to the point by simply and succinctly stating the thesis of the speech. Just like you may sometimes feel like you’re listening to someone tell a story without a point, if the audience is unclear about the thesis of the speech, they are likely to stop listening. By following the guidelines established to create an effective thesis, a good speaker will be able to create a simple sentence that draws the audience’s attention to the singular purpose and thesis of the speech.

Sign previewing coming attractions

An introduction should include a clear preview of the main points of the speech.

Goal 5: Preview main points

An introduction should end with a clear preview of the main points of the speech. The purpose is to provide a clear, overarching structure of how the topic will be divided and the thesis fulfilled. Therefore, it is important to use concise language and to only preview the names of your main points, avoiding the mention of any subpoints or digressions. Imagine your preview like a road sign showing the major city in that direction, not all the smaller stops along the way.

It is important that the main points are previewed in the respective order that they will be presented in order to demonstrate your organization as a speaker, to prepare the audience for the flow of the speech, and to help the audience find their place in case of a momentary day dream.

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