Can you imagine how strange a speech would sound without an introduction? Or how jarring it would be if, after making a point, a speaker just walked away from the lectern and sat down? You would most likely be pretty confused, and the takeaway from that speech—even if the content was really good—would likely be, “I was confused” or “That was a weird speech.”
This is just one of the reasons all speeches need introductions and conclusions. Introductions and conclusions serve to frame the speech and give it a clearly defined beginning and end. They help the audience to see what is to come in the speech, and then let them mentally prepare for the end. In doing this, introductions and conclusions provide a “preview/review” of your speech as a means to reiterate or re-emphasize to your audience what you are talking about.
If you remember back to the section on Organizing and Outlining, we talked about “planned redundancy” as a strategy for aiding retention and understanding of your purpose and supporting speech ideas. Since speeches are auditory and live, you need to make sure the audience remembers what you are saying. So one of the primary functions of an introduction is to preview what you will be covering in your speech, and one of the main roles of the conclusion is to review what you have covered. It may seem like you are repeating yourself and saying the same things over and over, but that repetition ensures that your audience understands and retains what you are saying.
The challenge, however, is that there is much more that a speaker must do in the introduction and conclusion than just preview or review the topic and main points. The roles that introductions and conclusions fulfill are numerous, and, when done correctly, can make your speech stronger. However, the introduction and conclusion are not the main parts of the speech; that is the body section where the bulk of your research and information will be housed. So to that end, the introduction and conclusion need to be relatively short and to the point.
The general rule is that the introduction and conclusion should each be about 10% of your total speech, leaving 80% for the body section. You can extend the introduction to 15% if there is good reason to, so 10-15% of the speech time is a good guideline for the introduction Let’s say that your informative speech has a time limit of 5-7 minutes: if we average that out to 6 minutes that gives us 360 seconds. Ten to fifteen percent of 360 is 36-54, meaning your full introduction—which includes the thesis and preview—should come in at about a minute. That isn’t to say that your speech instructor will be timing you and penalize you for hitting the 60 second mark, but rather to highlight the fact that you need to be economical with your time. An introduction or conclusion of a 6-minute speech that lasts 90 seconds is taking up 25% or your speech. leaving much less time for the body.
Consequently, there are some common errors to avoid in introductions:
As we have mentioned before, it is best to write your introduction after you have a clear sense of the body of your presentation. The challenge to introductions is that there is a lot you need to get done in that 10%-15%, and all of it is vital to establishing yourself as a knowledgeable and credible speaker.
In terms of the conclusions, be careful NOT to:
In the following sections, we will discuss specifically what you should include in the introduction and conclusion, and offer a number of options for accomplishing each.
A common concern many students have as the date of their first major speech approaches is “I don’t know how I should start my speech.” What they are really saying is they aren’t sure what words will be memorable, attention-capturing, and clever enough to get their audience interested or, on a more basic level, sound good. This is a problem most speakers have, since the first words you say, in many ways, set the tone for the rest of your speech. There may not be any one “best” way to start a speech, but we can provide some helpful guidelines that will make starting a speech much easier.
With that in mind, there are five basic elements that you will want to incorporate into your introduction. And while you have some leeway to structure your introduction in a way that best fits with your speech and you wouldn’t necessarily always do all of these in the order below, the following order of these five elements is fairly standard. Unless you have a specific reason to do otherwise, it is probably a pretty good order for you to use.
The first major purpose of an introduction is to gain your audience’s attention and make them interested in what you have to say. While many audiences may be polite and not talk while you’re speaking, actually getting them to listen to what you are saying is a completely different challenge. Let’s face it—we’ve all tuned someone out at some point because we weren’t interested in what they had to say. If you do not get the audience’s attention at the outset, it will only become more difficult to do so as you continue speaking.
That’s why every speech should start with an attention getter, or some sort of statement or question that piques the audience’s interest in what you have to say at the very start of a speech. Sometime these are called “grabbers.” The first words out of your mouth should be something that will perk up the audience’s ears. Starting a speech with “Hey everybody. I’m going to talk to you today about soccer” already sounds boring and has not tried to engage the individuals in the audience who don’t care about soccer. Once your audience has deemed your speech to be boring, trying to inform, persuade, or entertain them becomes exponentially more difficult. So let’s briefly discuss what you can do to capture your audience’s attention from the onset.
First, when selecting an attention-getting device, you want to make sure that the option you choose is actually appropriate and relevant to your specific audience. Different audiences will have different backgrounds and knowledge, so you should use your audience analysis to determine whether specific information you plan on using would be appropriate for a specific audience. For example, if you’re giving a speech on family units to a group of individuals over the age of sixty-five, starting your speech with a reference to the television show Stranger Things may not be the best idea because the audience may be unfamiliar with that show.
You will also want to choose an attention-getting device appropriate for your speech topic. Ideally, your attention-getting device should have a relevant connection to your speech. Imagine if a speaker pulled condoms out of his pocket, yelled “Free sex!” and threw the condoms at the audience in the beginning of a speech about the economy. While this may clearly get the audience’s attention, this isn’t really a good way to prepare an audience for a speech about the stock market, or really much else. To help you out, below we have listed a number of different attention getters that you may find useful for opening your speech.
An anecdote is a brief account or story of an interesting or humorous event. Notice the emphasis here is on the word “brief.” A common mistake speakers make when telling an anecdote is to make the anecdote too long. An example of an anecdote used in a speech about the pervasiveness of technology might look something like this:
In July 2009, a high school student named Miranda Becker was walking along a main boulevard near her home on Staten Island, New York, typing in a message on her cell phone. Not paying attention to the world around her, she took a step and fell right into an open manhole.
Notice that the anecdote is short and has a clear point. From here the speaker can begin to make his or her point about how technology is controlling our lives.
A second type of anecdote is a parable or fable. A parable or fable is an allegorical anecdote designed to teach general life lessons. The most widely known parables for most Americans are those given in the Bible and the best-known fables are Aesop’s Fables (http://www.umass.edu/aesop/index.php). So if you decide your speech will focus on the benefits of remaining in college for more than four years in order to obtain multiple degrees, you may want to adapt some version of “The Tortoise and The Hare” as your attention getter.
It is sometimes helpful to begin your speech in a way that your audience finds familiar, since this can make them feel more connected to your speech. This may be particularly helpful for topics with which your audience is unfamiliar. One of the best and easiest ways to do this is to begin with a story that your audience is likely to have heard before. These types of stories come in a number of forms, but the most common ones include fables, tall tales, ghost stories, parables, fairy tales, myths, and legends.
Two primary issues that you should be aware of often arise with using stories as attention getters. First, you shouldn’t let your story go on for too long. If you are going to use a story to begin your speech, you need to think of it more in terms of summarizing the story rather than actually reciting the entire thing. Even a relatively simple story like “The Tortoise and the Hare” can take a couple of minutes to get through in its entirety, so you’ll need to cut it down to the main points or highlights. The second issue with using stories as attention getters is that the story must in some way relate to your speech. If you begin your speech by recounting the events in “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” your speech will in some way need to address such topics as finding balance or coming to a compromise. If your story doesn’t relate to your topic, you will likely confuse your audience and they may spend the remainder of your speech trying to figure out the connection rather than listening to what you have to say.
A personal story is another option here. You may consider starting your speech with a story about yourself that is relevant to your topic. Some of the best speeches are ones that come from personal knowledge and experience. If you are an expert or have firsthand experience related to your topic, sharing this information with the audience is a great way to show that you are credible during your attention getter. For example, if you had a gastric bypass surgery and you wanted to give an informative speech about the procedure, you could introduce your speech in this way:
In the fall of 2015, I decided that it was time that I took my life into my own hands. After suffering for years with the disease of obesity, I decided to take a leap of faith and get a gastric bypass in an attempt to finally beat the disease.
If you use a personal example, don’t get carried away with the focus on yourself and your own life. Your speech topic is the purpose of the attention getter, not the other way around. Another pitfall in using a personal example is that it may be too personal for you to maintain your composure. For example, a student once started a speech about her grandmother by stating, “My grandmother died of cancer at 3:30 this morning.” The student then proceeded to burst into uncontrollable tears. While this is an extreme example, we strongly recommend that you avoid any material that could get you upset while speaking. When speakers have an emotional breakdown during their speech, audience members stop listening to the message and become very uncomfortable. They may empathize with the distraught speaker, but the effectiveness has been diminished in other ways.
Another way to start your speech is to surprise your audience with startling information about your topic. Often, startling statements come in the form of statistics and strange facts. The goal of a good startling statistic is that it surprises the audience and gets them engaged in your topic. For example, if you’re giving a speech about oil conservation, you could start by saying, “A Boeing 747 airliner holds 57,285 gallons of fuel.” You could start a speech on the psychology of dreams by noting, “The average person has over 1,460 dreams a year.”
A strange fact, on the other hand, is a statement that does not involve numbers but is equally surprising to most audiences. For example, you could start a speech on the gambling industry by saying, “There are no clocks in any casinos in Las Vegas.” You could start a speech on the Harlem Globetrotters by saying, “In 2000, Pope John Paul II became the most famous honorary member of the Harlem Globetrotters.” All four of these examples came from a website for strange facts (http://www. strangefacts.com).
Although startling statements are fun, it is important to use them ethically. First, make sure that your startling statement is factual. The Internet is full of startling statements and claims that are simply not factual, so when you find a statement you’d like to use, you have an ethical duty to ascertain its truth before you use it and to provide a reliable citation. Second, make sure that your startling statement is relevant to your speech and not just thrown in for shock value. We’ve all heard startling claims made in the media that are clearly made for purposes of shock or fear mongering, such as “Do you know what common household appliance could kill you? Film at 11:00.” As speakers, we have an ethical obligation to avoid playing on people’s emotions in this way.
A rhetorical question is a question to which no actual reply is expected. For example, a speaker talking about the history of Mother’s Day could start by asking the audience, “Do you remember the last time you told your mom you loved her?” In this case, the speaker does not expect the audience to shout out an answer, but rather to think about the question as the speech goes on.
The most direct (but probably the least interesting of the possible attention getters) is to tell your audience the subject of your speech. Here’s an example:
We are surrounded by statistical information in today’s world, so understanding statistics is becoming paramount to citizenship in the twenty-first century.
This sentence explicitly tells an audience that the speech they are about to hear is about the importance of understanding statistics. While this isn’t the most entertaining or interesting attention getter, it is very clear and direct. And note that it justifies the importance of the audience paying attention while avoiding being completely snooze-inducing, as it would have been if it were reworded as, “I want to talk to you about statistics.”
Reference to Audience or Appeal to Self-Interest
As we have tried to emphasize throughout this book, your audience is the single most important factor is crafting your speech, so it makes sense that one approach to opening your speech is to make a direct reference to the audience. In this case, the speaker has a clear understanding of the audience and points out that there is something unique about the audience that should make them interested in the speech’s content. Here’s an example:
As students at State College, you and I know the importance of selecting a major that will benefit us in the future. In today’s competitive world, we need to study a topic that will help us be desirable to employers and provide us with lucrative and fulfilling careers. That’s why I want you all to consider majoring in communication.
In this example, the speaker reminds the audience of their shared status as students and uses the common ground to acknowledge the importance of selecting a major that will benefit them in the future. Earlier in this unit, we used the expression WIIFM (“What’s in it for me?”) to remind you that your topic and approach should appeal to the self-interests and needs of the audience members.
Another way to capture your listeners’ attention is to use the words of another person that relate directly to your topic. Maybe you’ve found a really great quotation in one of the articles or books you read while researching your speech. If not, you can also use a number of Internet or library sources that compile useful quotations from noted individuals. Quotations are a great way to start a speech, so let’s look at an example that could be used during the opening of a commencement address (a type of special occasion speech discussed later in this unit. The late actress, fashion icon, and social activist Audrey Hepburn once noted that,
“Nothing is impossible. The word itself says ‘I’m possible’!”
If you use a quotation as your attention getter, be sure to give the source first (as in this example) so that it isn’t mistaken as your own wording.
Reference to Current Events
Referring to a current news event that relates to your topic is often an effective way to capture attention, as it immediately makes the audience aware of how relevant the topic is in today’s world. For example, consider this attention getter for a persuasive speech on frivolous lawsuits:
On January 10 of this year, Scott Anthony Gomez, Jr., and a fellow inmate escaped from a Pueblo, Colorado, jail. During their escape the duo attempted to rappel from the roof of the jail using a makeshift ladder of bed sheets. During Gomez’s attempt to scale the building, he slipped, fell forty feet, and injured his back. After being quickly apprehended, Gomez filed a lawsuit against the jail for making it too easy for him to escape.
In this case, the speaker is highlighting a news event that illustrates what a frivolous lawsuit is, setting up the speech topic of a need for change in how such lawsuits are handled.
You may also capture your listeners’ attention by referring to a historical event related to your topic. Obviously, this strategy is closely related to the previous one, except that instead of a recent news event you are reaching further back in history to find a relevant reference. For example, if you are giving a speech on the perception of modern music as crass or having no redeeming values, you could refer back to Elvis Presley and his musical breakout in the 1950s as a way of making a comparison:
During the mid-1950s, Elvis Presley introduced the United States to a new genre of music: rock and roll. Initially viewed as distasteful, and Presley was himself chastised for his gyrating dance moves and flashy style. Today he is revered as “The King of Rock ‘n Roll.” So when we criticize modern artists for being flamboyant or over the top, we may be ridiculing some of the most important musical innovators we will know in our lifetimes.
In this example, the speaker is evoking the audience’s knowledge of Elvis to raise awareness of similarities to current artists that may be viewed today as he was in the 1950s.
Humor is another effective method for gaining an audience’s attention. Humor is an amazing tool when used properly. We cannot begin to explain all the facets of humor within this chapter, but we can say that humor is a great way of focusing an audience on what you are saying. However, humor is a double-edged sword. If you do not wield the sword carefully, you can turn your audience against you very quickly.
When using humor, you really need to know your audience and understand what they will find humorous. One of the biggest mistakes a speaker can make is to use some form of humor that the audience either doesn’t find funny or, worse, finds offensive. Think about how incompetent the character of Michael Scott seems on the television program The Office, in large part because of his ineffective use of humor. We always recommend that you test out humor of any kind on a sample of potential audience members prior to actually using it during a speech. If you do use a typical narrative “joke,” don’t say it happened to you. Anyone who heard the joke before will think you are less than truthful!
Now that we’ve warned you about the perils of using humor, let’s talk about how to use humor as an attention getter. Humor can be incorporated into several of the attention-getting devices mentioned. You could use a humorous anecdote, quotation, or current event. As with other attention-getting devices, you need to make sure your humor is relevant to your topic, as one of the biggest mistakes some novices make when using humor is to add humor that really doesn’t support the overall goal of the speech. So when looking for humorous attention getters, you want to make sure that the humor is not going to be offensive to your audience and relevant to your speech.
For example, here’s a humorous quotation from Nicolas Chamfort, a French author during the sixteenth century: “The only thing that stops God from sending another flood is that the first one was useless.” While this quotation could be effective for some audiences, other audiences may find this humorous quotation offensive. The Chamfort quotation could be appropriate for a speech on the ills of modern society, but probably not for a speech on the state of modern religious conflict. It also would not be appropriate in an area that had just experienced damaging floods. You want to make sure that the leap from your attention getter to your topic isn’t too complicated for your audience, or the attention getter will backfire.
This list of attention-getting devices represents a thorough, but not necessarily exhaustive, range of ways that you can begin your speech. Certainly these would be the more common attention getters that most people employ. Again, as mentioned earlier, your selection of attention getter is not only dependent on your audience, your topic, and the occasion, but also on your preferences and skills as a speaker. If you know that you are a bad storyteller, you might elect not to start your speech with a story. If you tend to tell jokes that no one laughs at, avoid starting your speech off with humor.
We will discuss the factors of attention in a later unit, but to summarize, the best attention getters are:
Other factors like suspense (introducing a story and finishing it at the end) or conflict (telling a story with strong opposing forces and tension) can also be used.
Whether you are informing, persuading, or entertaining an audience, one of the things they will be expecting is for you to know what you are talking about. So the second element of an introduction is to let your audience know that you are a knowledgeable and credible source for this information. To do this, you will need to explain how you know what you know about your topic.
For some people, this will be simple. If you are informing your audience how a baseball is thrown, and you have played baseball since you were eight years old, that makes you a fairly credible source. You probably know what you are talking about. So let us know that by saying something like, “Having played baseball for over ten years, including two years as the starting pitcher on my high school’s varsity team, I can tell you about the ways that pitchers use to throw different kind of balls in a baseball game.” With regard to persuasive speaking, if you are trying to convince your audience to join Big Brothers Big Sisters and you have been volunteering for years, let them know: “I’ve been serving with Big Brothers Big Sisters for the last two years, and I can tell you that the experience is very rewarding.” By telling your audience you volunteer, you are saying to them “I’m not asking you to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.”
However, you may be speaking on a subject with which you have no history of credibility. If you are just curious about when streetlights were installed at intersections and why they are red, yellow, and green, you can give an interesting speech on that. But you will still need to give your audience some sort of reason to trust your knowledge. Since you were required to do research, you are at least more knowledgeable on the subject than anyone else in the class. In this case you might say, “After doing some research and consulting several books on the subject, I want to share what I’ve learned about the evolution of traffic lights in America.”
The next element of your introduction will be to establish rapport with your audience. Rapport is basically a relationship or connection you make with your audience. In everyday life, we say that two people have a rapport when they get along really well and are good friends. In your introduction, you will want to explain to your audience why you are giving them this information and why it is important to them (answering the WIIFM question). You will be making a connection through this shared information and explaining to them how it will benefit them. One of the best examples of rapport we have seen came from an informative speech on the poet Lord Byron:
You may be asking yourselves why you need to know about Lord Byron. If you take Humanities 1202 as I did last semester, you will be discussing his life and works, so after this speech you will have a good basis for the class material.
What is important here is that this speaker used the audience analysis techniques discussed in Chapter 2 to determine the demographic make-up of the audience and determine what would motivate them to listen. Knowing that they are all college students, the speaker enticed them to listen with the suggestion that this information would benefit them in a future class they might take.
Another important thing to note here is that there is not necessarily a right or wrong way to establish rapport with your audience. You as the speaker must determine what you think will work best and help make a connection. Take for example an informative speech on “how to throw a baseball.” How would you establish rapport with your audience on that topic? Maybe you choose to focus on the age of your audience, and noting that they are all relatively young and that some of them are already parents, you might say, “A lot of people in this room have or may have children someday, and if you decide you want to throw a ball with them or help them with sports, here are three steps you can use to teach them how to throw a baseball.” Will everyone in the class have kids someday? Probably not, but it is reasonable to guess that most about your audience will relate to this approach based on a demographic analysis.
The fourth major function of an introduction after getting the audience’s attention is to reveal the purpose of your speech to your audience. Have you ever sat through a speech wondering what the basic point was? Have you ever come away after a speech and had no idea what the speaker was talking about? An introduction should make the topic, purpose, and central idea clear. This might be a good place for you to review the material earlier in this unit about writing central idea statements and specific purposes. For most speeches, the central idea and preview (Element 5) should come at the end of the introduction.
While not a hard and fast rule, you will probably also want to avoid having the audience “guess” what your topic is through clues. Consider the following topic reveal:
Today I’d like to talk to you about a man who overcame great adversity to become the President of the United States. During his time in office he faced increasing opposition from conservative voices in government, as well as some dissension among his own party, all while being thrust into a war he didn’t want.
As an attention getter, this may not be bad, but what it doesn’t do is reveal the topic. The speaker at this point might assume the audience has clearly figured out who this speech is about and moved on. Unfortunately, the above passage could refer to either Abraham Lincoln or Barack Obama, and members of the audience might either be confused or disappointed when they figure out the speech isn’t covering what they thought it was.
It should also be noted here that at no point in your introduction do you ever want to read your specific purpose statement as a way of revealing your topic. Your specific purpose is included on your outline for your instructor’s sake and to keep you on track during preparation. The language used in the specific purpose (“To inform my audience…”) is too awkward to be actually read aloud.
Just like previewing your topic, previewing your main points helps your audience know what to expect throughout the course of your speech and prepares them to listen. Your preview of main points should be clear and easy to follow so that there is no question in your audience’s minds what they are. Long, complicated, or verbose main points can get confusing. Be succinct and simple: “Today, in our discussion of Abraham Lincoln’s life, we will look at his birth, his role a president, and his assassination.” From that there is little question as to what specific aspects of Lincoln’s life the speech will cover. However, if you want to be extra sure they get it, you can always enumerate them by using signposts (as we discussed in Chapter 6): “In discussing how to make chocolate chip cookies, first we will cover what ingredients you need, second we will talk about how to mix them, and third we will look at baking them.”
What these five elements do is prepare your audience for the bulk of the speech (i.e. the body section) by letting them know what they can expect, why they should listen, and why they can trust you as a speaker. Having all five elements starts your speech off on much more solid ground that you would get without having them.
Below you will find examples of informative and persuasive introductions. Notice that each contains the five elements necessary for a good introduction: an attention getter, the establishment of rapport with the audience, the speaker’s credibility, a clear topic reveal, and clearly articulated main points. An important point to mention about the introduction is that the parts should flow or “bridge” into each other. You do not want to have a disconnect between the attention getter, the credibility enhancer, the rapport, and the reveal. You also can switch the rapport and credibility sections if it makes more sense, but definitely start with the attention-getter and end with the preview.
(Note: We have written these introductions out as paragraphs, but your instructor may require you to present them in a different format in your outline.)
My parents knew that something was really wrong when my mom received a call from my home economics teacher saying that she needed to get to the school immediately and pick me up. This was all because of an allergy, something that everyone in this room is either vaguely or extremely familiar with. Allergies affect a large number of people, and three very common allergies include pet and animal allergies, seasonal allergies, and food allergies. All three of these allergies take control over certain areas of my life, as all three types affect me, starting when I was just a kid and continuing today [attention-getter]. Because of this, I have done extensive research on the subject, [credibility] and would like to share some of what I’ve learned with all of you today. Whether you just finished your freshman year of college, you are a new parent, or you have kids that are grown and out of the house, allergies will most likely affect everyone in this room at some point [rapport]. So it will benefit you all to know more about them, specifically the three most common sources of allergies and the most recent approaches to treating them [purpose and preview].
Topic: Seasonal Affective Disorder
(See if you can identify the parts on Example 2.) When winter is approaching and the days are getting darker and shorter, do you feel a dramatic reduction in energy or do you sleep longer than usual during the fall or winter months? If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, you may be one of the millions of people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. For most people these problems do not cause great suffering in their life, but for an estimated six percent of the United States population these problems can result in major suffering. As a student in the registered nursing program here at State College, I became interested in SAD after learning more about it and want to share this information with all of you in case you recognize some of these symptoms in yourself or someone you love. In order to fully understand SAD, it is important to look at the medical definition of SAD, the symptoms of this disorder, and the measures that are commonly used to ease symptoms.
Topic: Term Life Insurance
You have cried silent tears and uttered desperate prayers, but as you watch the medical team unhook the tubes, turn off the heart monitor and shoot furtive, helpless glances your way, you face the unmistakable reality that cancer has won over your loved one and you are left with unimaginable grief, despair and yes, financial burden. Most of us would not choose to cause our loved ones financial pain on top of the emotional pain of our deaths, but by failing to plan for their financial needs, that is exactly what we do. I have learned a lot about life insurance in my research for this presentation, from taking a thirteen-week course about financial matters, and from the experience of purchasing a term life insurance policy just last year. I know most of you probably have not thought much about life insurance, but someday each and every one of us in this room will pass away and somebody is going to have to pay for our funerals. Term life insurance is affordable, protects those you love from the financial devastation of your uninsured death, and reinforces your commitment to their financial and emotional well-being while you are living. Let’s examine the definition of term life insurance and then its benefits.
Similar to the introduction, the conclusion has three specific elements that you will want to incorporate in order to make it as strong as possible. Given the nature of these elements and what they do, these should generally be incorporated into your conclusion in the order they are presented below.
The first thing a good conclusion should do is to signal the end of a speech. You may be thinking that telling an audience that you’re about to stop speaking is a “no brainer,” but many speakers really don’t prepare their audience for the end. When a speaker just suddenly stops speaking, the audience is left confused and disappointed. Instead, you want to make sure that audiences are left knowledgeable and satisfied with your speech. In a way, it gives them time to begin mentally organizing and cataloging all the points you have made for further consideration later.
Generally, the easiest way to signal that it is the end of your speech is to begin your conclusion with the words, “In conclusion.” Similarly, “In summary” or “To conclude” work just as well. While these may seem very blunt ways of communicating the end of your speech to the audience, you want it to be extremely clear to everyone that you are wrapping things up. Certainly you can choose to employ more elegant, interesting, or creative language here, but you then run the risk of the audience not catching on to the fact that your speech is ending.
On the other hand, saying “In conclusion” (and definitely saying it more than once) can have an unintended negative effect. The audience may figure you are finished and turn you off, sort of like how we get up and leave during the credits in a movie. Therefore, you can also go straight to the summary, which is Element 2.
In the introduction of a speech you delivered a preview of your main points; now in the conclusion you will deliver a review. One of the biggest differences between written and oral communication is the necessity of repetition in oral communication (the issue of “planned redundancy” again). When you preview your main points in the introduction, effectively discuss and make transitions to your main points during the body of the speech, and finally, review the main points in the conclusion, you increase the likelihood that the audience will understand and retain your main points after the speech is over. Remember, your English instructors can re-read your essays as many times as they want, but your audience – and your instructor – only have one opportunity to catch and remember the points you are trying to get across in your speech.
Because you are trying to remind the audience of your main points, you want to be sure not to bring up any new material or ideas. For example, if you said, “There are several other issues related to this topic, such as…but I don’t have time for them,” that would make the audience confused and perhaps wonder why you did not address those issues in the body section. Or if you were giving a persuasive speech on wind energy and you ended with, “Wind energy is the energy of the future, but there are still a few problems with it, such as noise and killing lots of birds,” you are bringing up a counter-argument that should have been dealt within the body of the speech.
This is a good place to remind you that the introduction, preview, transitions, and conclusion are for helping the audience be interested and prepared to listen, to retain, and to follow your speech. The conclusion is too late for that. The hardcore facts and content are in the body. If you are tempted to cram lots of material into the conclusion, that is not the place for it, nor is it the place to provide the important steps to a solution.
As you progress as a public speaker, you will want to work on rephrasing your summary statement so that it does not sound like an exact repeat of the preview. For example, if your preview was:
The three arguments in favor of medical marijuana that I will present are that it would make necessary treatments available to all, it would cut down on the costs to law enforcement, and it would bring revenue to state budgets.
Your summary might be:
In the minutes we’ve had together, I have shown you that approving medical marijuana in our state will greatly help persons with a variety of chronic and severe conditions. Also, funds spent on law enforcement to find and convict legitimate marijuana users would go down as revenues from medical marijuana to the state budget would go up.
The third element of your conclusion is the clincher, or something memorable with which to conclude your speech. The clincher is sometimes referred to as a Concluding Device. These are the very last words you will say in your speech, so you need to make them count. This is the last thing your audience will hear, so you want to make it good. A good clincher prevents your audience from feeling let down, and in fact can even make an audience remember a speech more favorably.
In many ways the clincher is like the inverse of the attention getter. You want to start the speech off with something strong, and you want to end the speech with something strong. To that end, similar to what we discussed above with attention getters, there are a number of ways you can make your clincher strong and memorable.
One way you can end your speech is with a challenge. A challenge is a call to engage in some kind of activity that requires a special effort. In a speech on the necessity of fundraising, a speaker could conclude by challenging the audience to raise 10 percent more than their original projections. In a speech on eating more vegetables, you could challenge your audience to increase their current intake of vegetables by two portions daily. In both of these challenges, audience members are being asked to go out of their way to do something different that involves effort on their part.
In a challenge, try to make it aspirational but reasonable. The challenge should be something they can strive for but not see as something impossible. The audience may see two more servings a day of fruits and vegetables as reasonable, but six probably as too much.
In the same category as a challenge, 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 her or his 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, get more sleep, 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, using a computer the speaker has made available. For a speech on eating more vegetables, pass out raw veggies and dip at the conclusion of the speech; someone giving a speech on petitioning a lawmaker for a new law could provide audience members with a prewritten e-mail they can send to the lawmaker.
If you are giving a persuasive speech about a solution to a problem, you should not relegate the call to action to the very end of the speech. It should probably be a main point where you can deal with the steps and specifics of the solution in more detail. For example, perhaps a speaker has been discussing the problems associated with the disappearance of art education in the United States. The speaker could then propose a solution of creating more community-based art experiences for school children as a way to fill this gap. Although this can be an effective conclusion, speakers should ask themselves whether the solution should be discussed in more depth as a stand-alone main point within the body of the speech so that audience concerns about the proposed solution may be addressed.
Another way you can conclude a speech is by providing a quotation relevant to the speech topic. When using a quotation, you need to think about whether your goal is to end on a persuasive note or an informative note. Some quotations will have a clear call to action, while other quotations summarize or provoke thought. For example, let’s say you are delivering an informative speech about dissident writers in the former Soviet Union. You could end by citing this quotation from Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “A great writer is, so to speak, a second government in his country. And for that reason no regime has ever loved great writers.”
Notice that this quotation underscores the idea of writers as dissidents, but it doesn’t ask listeners to put forth effort to engage in any specific thought process or behavior. If, on the other hand, you were delivering a persuasive speech urging your audience to sponsor a child in a developing country for $40 per month, you might use this quotation by Forest Witcraft:
“A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different, because I was important in the life of a child.”
In this case, the quotation leaves the audience with the message that monetary sacrifices are worth taking, that they make our lives worthwhile, and that the right thing to do is to go ahead and make that sacrifice.
The purpose of a conclusion that refers to the future is to help your audience imagine the future you believe can occur. If you are giving a speech on the development of video games for learning, you could conclude by depicting the classroom of the future where video games are perceived as true learning tools. More often, speakers use visualization of the future to depict how society or how individual listeners’ lives would be different if the audience accepts and acts on the speaker’s main idea. For example, if a speaker proposes that a solution to illiteracy is hiring more reading specialists in public schools, the speaker could ask her or his audience to imagine a world without illiteracy.
By definition, the word inspire means to affect or arouse someone. Both affect and arouse have strong emotional connotations. The ultimate goal of an inspirational concluding device is similar to an “appeal for action” but the ultimate goal is more lofty or ambiguous; the goal is to stir someone’s emotions in a specific manner. This is done by sharing a story, poem, or quotation that appeals to the audience’s basic values and therefore appeals to emotions. Stories or allusions to “underdogs” who overcame obstacles to achieve something worthwhile or those who make sacrifices for the good of others can help inspire. You probably know of such stories (Olympic athletes and a well-known figure such as Captain Sullenberg are examples) that would be of value, as long as they are relevant to your topic and purpose. Poetry is sometimes used to inspire, but you want to use a short passage (eight lines or less) of poetry that is clear to the audience.
Another way you can end a speech is to ask a rhetorical question that forces the audience to ponder an idea. Maybe you are giving a speech on the importance of the environment, so you end the speech by saying, “Think about your children’s future. What kind of world do you want them raised in? A world that is clean, vibrant, and beautiful—or one that is filled with smog, pollution, filth, and disease?” Notice that you aren’t actually asking the audience to verbally or nonverbally answer the question; the goal of this question is to force the audience into thinking about what kind of world they want for their children.
This method provides a good sense of closure to the speech and can be one of the most effective methods. If you started the speech with a startling statistic or fact, such as “Last year, according to the official website of the American Humane Society, four million pets were euthanized in shelters in the United States,” in the end you could say, “Remember that shocking number of four million euthanized pets? With your donation of time or money to the Northwest Georgia Rescue Shelter, you can help lower that number in our region.”
As with your attention getter, a brief story can be a strong way to conclude. However, it must be relevant and not go on too long. Combining this method and the previous one, you might finish telling a story that you started in the introduction as your clincher. This method is probably better with persuasive speeches where you want to end with a strong emotional appeal.
The last concluding device involves a direct reference to your audience. This concluding device is used when a speaker attempts to answer the basic audience question, “What’s in it for me?” (the WIIFM question). The goal of this concluding device is to spell out the direct benefits a behavior or thought change has for audience members. For example, a speaker talking about stress reduction techniques could conclude by clearly listing all the physical health benefits stress reduction offers (e.g., improved reflexes, improved immune system, improved hearing, reduction in blood pressure). In this case, the speaker is spelling out why audience members should care about the topic and what’s in it for them.
As you read through the above possible ways to conclude a speech, hopefully you noticed that some of the methods are more appropriate for persuasive speeches and others are more appropriate for informative speeches. An appeal to action, for example, may not be appropriate for an informative speech since asking your audience to do something often borders on persuasion, which isn’t what an informative speech is intended to do. Similarly, if your persuasive speech is on the importance of voting in the next local election, an appeal to action clincher would probably be one of your stronger options.
Here are two examples of conclusions. More examples can be found on the outlines in future units. As before, try to determine what sentences in the conclusion relate to the three elements.
Anxiety is a complex emotion that afflicts people of all ages and social backgrounds and is experienced uniquely by each individual. We have seen that there are multiple symptoms, causes, and remedies, all of which can often be related either directly or indirectly to cognitive behaviors. While most people do not enjoy anxiety, it seems to be part of the universal human experience, so realize that you are not alone, but also realize that you are not powerless against it. With that said, the following quote, attributed to an anonymous source, could not be more true, “Worry does not relieve tomorrow of its stress; it merely empties today of its strength.”
Topic: Adopting a Rescue Animal
I believe you should adopt a rescue animal because it helps stop forms of animal cruelty, you can add a healthy companion to your home, and it is a relatively simple process that can save a life. Each and every one of you should go to your nearest animal shelter, which may include the Catoosa Citizens for Animal Care, the Humane Society of NWGA in Dalton, the Murray County Humane Society, or the multiple other shelters in the area to bring a new animal companion into your life. I’ll leave you with a paraphrased quote from Deborah Jacobs’s article “Westminster Dog Show Junkie” on Forbes.com: “You may start out thinking that you are rescuing the animal, and ultimately find that the animal rescues you right back.”
Read out loud one of the example introductions earlier in the chapter, and time your reading. If an introduction should not be longer than about 10%-15% of the total speech time, how long would the speech attached to this introduction be? (You’ll have to do the math!) If you had to give a shorter speech using this introduction, how would you edit it to make it for the time limit but still be an effective introduction?
Final Note: If you are wondering about the photo at the beginning of this chapter, it is of the headstone of poet Emily Dickinson in Amherst, Massachusetts. Her parting words, as shown on the marker, were “Called Back.” That was her “life” conclusion
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