Intro and Conclusion

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the objectives and components of a speech introduction.
  2. Identify the objectives and components of a speech conclusion.

Introduction

A speaker should do the following in the introduction of a speech: get the audience’s attention, introduce the topic, establish credibility and relevance, and preview the main points.

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We all know that first impressions matter. First impressions are quickly formed, sometimes spontaneous, and involve little to no cognitive effort. Your introduction is only a fraction of your speech, but in that first minute or so, your audience decides whether or not they are interested in listening to the rest of the speech. There are four objectives that you should accomplish in your introduction. They include getting your audience’s attention, introducing your topic, establishing credibility and relevance, and previewing your main points.

Step 1 of Introduction: Getting Your Audience’s Attention

There are several strategies you can use to get your audience’s attention. Ensure your attention-getter is appropriate, meaning that it’s unusual enough to get people interested—but not over the top—and relevant to your speech topic. Here are some common ways to grab the audience’s attention in a persuasive speech.

Cite a Startling Fact or Statistic

As you research your topic, take note of any information that defies your expectations or surprises you. If you have a strong reaction to something you learn, your audience may, too. When using a startling fact or statistic as an attention getter, it’s important to get the most bang for your buck. You can do this by sharing more than one fact or statistic that builds up the audience’s interest. When using numbers, it’s also good to repeat and/or repackage the statistics so they stick in the audience’s mind, which you can see in the following example:

“In 1994, sixteen states reported that 15–19 percent of their population was considered obese. Every other state reported obesity rates less than that. In 2010, every single state had at least a 20 percent obesity rate. In just six years, we went from no states with an obesity rate higher than 19 percent, to fifty.”

Use a Quotation

Some quotations are attention getting and some are boring. Some quotations are relevant and moving and some are abstract and stale. If you choose to open your speech with a quotation, choose one that is attention getting, relevant, and moving. The following example illustrates some tips for using a quote to start a speech: “‘The most important question in the world is ‘Why is the child crying?’’ This quote from author Alice Walker is at the heart of my speech today. Too often, people see children suffering at the hands of bullies and do nothing about it until it’s too late. That’s why I believe that all public schools should adopt a zero-tolerance policy on bullying.”

Notice that the quote is delivered first in the speech, then the source of the quote is cited. Since the quote, like a starting fact or statistic just discussed, is the attention-getting part, it’s better to start with that than the citation. Next, the speaker explains why the quote is relevant to the speech. Just because a quote seems relevant to you doesn’t mean the audience will also pick up on that relevance.

Ask a Question

A rhetorical question is different from a direct question. When a speaker asks a direct question, they actually want a response from their audience. A rhetorical question is designed to elicit a mental response from the audience, not a verbal or nonverbal one. In short, a rhetorical question makes an audience think. Asking a direct question of your audience is warranted only if the speaker plans on doing something with the information they get from the audience. For example, you might ask “By a show of hands, how many people have taken public transportation in the past week?” The speaker will then incorporate the responses into the speech by pointing out that public transportation is important.

A safer bet is to ask a rhetorical question that elicits only a mental response. A good rhetorical question can get the audience primed to think about the content of the speech. The following is a series of rhetorical questions used in a speech against the testing of cosmetics on animals: “Was the toxicity of the shampoo you used this morning tested on the eyes of rabbits? Would you let someone put a cosmetic in your dog’s eye to test its toxicity level? Have you ever thought about how many products that you use every day are tested on animals?” Make sure you pause after your rhetorical question to give the audience time to think.

Tell a Story

When you tell a story, whether in the introduction to your speech or not, you should aim to paint word pictures in the minds of your audience members. You might tell a story from your own life or recount a story you found in your research. You may also use a hypothetical story, which has the advantage of allowing you to use your creativity and help place your audience in unusual situations that neither you nor they have actually experienced. When using a hypothetical story, you should let your audience know it’s not real, and you should present a story that the audience can relate to. Speakers often let the audience know a story is not real by starting with the word imagine. As I noted, a hypothetical example can allow you to speak beyond the experience of you and your audience members by having them imagine themselves in unusual circumstances. For example, “Think of someone you really care about. Visualize that person in your mind. Now, imagine that days and weeks go by and you haven’t heard from that person. Weeks turn into months and years, and you have no idea if they are alive or dead.” The speaker could go on to compare that scenario to the experiences of friends and family of prisoners of war. While we may not be able to imagine being held captive for years, we all know what it’s like to experience uncertainty regarding the safety of a loved one.

Step 2 of Introduction: Introducing the Topic

Introducing the topic  of your speech is the most obvious objective of an introduction, but speakers sometimes forget to do this or do not do it clearly. Sometimes a speech topic doesn’t become obvious until the middle of a speech. By that time, however, it’s easy to lose an audience that didn’t get clearly told the topic of the speech in the introduction.  The following example introduces an argument about childhood obesity: “Childhood obesity is a serious problem facing our country and today I’ll persuade you that childhood obesity is a problem that can no longer be ignored.”

Step 3 of Introduction: Establishing Credibility

The way you write and deliver your introduction makes an important first impression on your audience. But you can also take a moment in your introduction to explicitly set up your credibility in relation to your speech topic. If you have training, expertise, or credentials (e.g., a degree, certificate, etc.) relevant to your topic, you can share that with your audience. It may also be appropriate to mention firsthand experience, previous classes you have taken, or even a personal interest related to your topic.

Step 4 of Introduction: Thesis and Preview of Main Points

Begin by stating your thesis clearly and directly. The preview of main points is usually the last sentence of your introduction and serves as a map of what’s to come in the speech.  Your preview should be one sentence, should include wording that is parallel to the key wording of your main points in the body of your speech, and should preview your main points in the same order you discuss them in your speech. The following example previews the main points for a speech on childhood obesity: “Today I’ll convey the seriousness of the obesity epidemic among children by reviewing common health problems associated with the disease, pinpoint the key cause of obesity, and outline steps we can take to combat this issue.”

Conclusions

How you conclude a speech leaves an impression on your audience. There are three important objectives to accomplish in the conclusion of a persuasive speech. They include restating your thesis, a call-to-action, and closing with a “clincher.”

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Restatement of the Thesis

Restating a thesis statement is the first step in a powerful conclusion. When we restate the thesis statement at the conclusion of our speech, we’re attempting to reemphasize what the overarching main idea of the speech has been. Suppose your thesis statement was, “Childhood obesity is a serious problem and we must regulate the fast food industry to protect our children.’” You could restate the thesis in this fashion at the conclusion of your speech: “In the past few minutes, I have shown that the fast food industry must be regulated in order to protect our children from rising obesity rates.”  Restating the thesis in your conclusion reminds the audience of the major purpose or goal of your speech, helping them remember it better.

Call-to-Action

Probably the most common persuasive concluding device is the appeal for action or the call-to-action. In essence, the appeal for action occurs when a speaker asks the audience to engage in a specific behavior. Whether the speaker appeals for people to eat more fruit, buy a car, vote for a candidate, oppose the death penalty, or sing more in the shower, the speaker is asking the audience to engage in action.

One specific type of appeal for action is the immediate call to action. Whereas some appeals ask for people to engage in behavior in the future, the immediate call to action asks people to engage in behavior right now. If a speaker wants to see a new traffic light placed at a dangerous intersection, he or she may conclude by asking all the audience members to sign a digital petition right then and there. Here are some more examples of immediate calls to action:

  • In a speech on petitioning a lawmaker for a new law, provide audience members with a pre-written e-mail they can send to the lawmaker.
  • In a speech asking for donations for a charity, send a box around the room asking for donations.

These immediate calls to action may not lead to long-term change, but they can be very effective at increasing the likelihood that an audience will change their behavior.

Closing Your Speech with a “Clincher”

Like the attention-getter, your closing statement is an opportunity for you to exercise your creativity as a speaker. Many students have difficulty wrapping up the speech with a sense of closure and completeness. In terms of closure, a well-written and well-delivered closing line signals to your audience that your speech is over, which cues their applause. The closing line should relate to the overall speech and should provide some “take-away” message that may leave an audience thinking or propel them to action. A sample closing line could be “For your health, for our children’s health, and for our country’s health, we must take steps to address childhood obesity today.” You can also bring your audience full-circle by referring back to the introduction in the closing of your speech. For example, you may finish an illustration or answer a rhetorical question you started in the introduction.

Key Takeaways

  • A speaker should do the following in the introduction of a speech: get the audience’s attention, introduce the topic, establish credibility and relevance, and preview the main points.
  • A speaker should do the following in the conclusion of a persuasive speech: restate the thesis, add an urgent call-to-action, and provide closure.

Exercises

  1. Draft the opening and closing lines of your speech. Remember to tap into your creativity to try to engage the audience. Is there any way you can tie the introduction and conclusion together to create a “ribbon and bow” for your speech?

References

Lass-Hennemann, J., Linn K. Kuehl, André Schulz, Melly S. Oitzl, and Hartmut Schachinger, “Stress Strengthens Memory of First Impressions of Others’ Positive Perosnality Traits,” PLoS ONE 6, no. 1 (2011): 1.

Laws, E. L., Jennifer M. Apperson, Stephanie Buchert, and Norman J. Bregman, “Student Evaluations of Instruction: When Are Enduring First Impressions Formed?” North American Journal of Psychology 12, no. 1 (2010): 81.

Monroe, A. H., and Douglas Ehninger, Principles of Speech, 5th brief ed. (Chicago, IL: Scott, Foresman, 1964).

Winans, J. A., Public Speaking (New York: Century, 1917), 411.

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