Even though the introduction is only about 10 percent of the total speech, it provides the foundation for all the information that follows. These vital first words must quickly capture the attention of the audience, identify the topic you will discuss, and give a preview of the main points. Introductions might include stories, quotations, hypothetical questions, brief audio or visual material, humor or other devices. A good introduction provides a clear framework for your message, and it makes the audience want to hear what you have to say.
Use the Introduction to Create a Roadmap for Your Speech
Start with the body of the speech. Because the introduction lays out the path for the main message, it often helps to write the body of the speech first. Knowing your main points will help ensure that the introduction is complete, relevant and matches your message.
Make your first words fascinating. Audiences decide whether to pay attention or tune you out based on the first few seconds of a speech, so the first thing you say must make you seem more interesting than anything else in the room. Open with a brief story, a startling statistic, a controversial statement or a thought-provoking question to help the audience begin to focus on your topic. This part of the introduction is sometimes called an attention-getter or a grabber. Make your grabber relevant to your message so you can refer to it later in your speech or use it as the basis for your conclusion.
Incorporate the Main Purpose
Identify the focus of your speech. Speeches usually have a general purpose (e.g., to inform the audience about downhill skiing) and a specific purpose or focus (e.g., to explain how skiing competitions are judged at the Olympics or to describe the equipment needed to go skiing). After getting the audience interested in the general purpose, let them know what narrow aspect of it you will focus on in your speech.
Summarize the Thesis
Preview the main points. Tell the audience your major sub-topics to provide a framework for your message and help them follow along. If a listener misses something you say, he or she can't press rewind and hear it again, so give your listeners several chances to hear and understand your key points. Remember the old speech teacher’s adage, “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.” In the skiing example, you might provide a preview like this: “To enjoy a day on the slopes, you’ll need skis measured for your size, ski boots and weather-appropriate clothing.”
Remember that everything in your introduction must be relevant to the topic. Use humor with caution. The funny thing that happened on the way to the auditorium is only funny if it says something about the subject matter of your speech. Otherwise, the audience might get distracted wondering why you told that joke. Don't bore the audience by starting with a long list of thank yous. Jump right into your grabber, then incorporate only the absolutely necessary acknowledgments (if any) at the end of the introduction or at other appropriate points in your speech.