Last week I shared a few tips for deciding what to speak about (quickly when necessary) and why that’s the most important part of the preparation process. It’s important to end up with a very specific point to your speech.
The next step is picking your introduction. Once you know what is the main thing you want to tell your audience, it is time to persuade your audience to listen.
Pick a Catchy Intro
There is one and only one purpose to your introduction: To grab and keep your audience’s attention.
(Just keep in mind, it can’t just grab attention–it has to make sense: If you use Subject A to introduce your speech, and then give a speech that in no way connects to Subject A, your audience will spend the first three minutes thinking “Wait, what?” and the rest of the time daydreaming.)
So how do you grab your audience’s attention? Well, what grabs your interest? Picking an intro isn’t nearly as tough as people think. The options are endless. Here are a few:
• An interesting and memorable personal story.
• A shocking statistic.
• An experience everyone shares and can relate to.
• An activity the audience can participate in.
• A hilarious or dramatic story that engages people emotionally.
Just ask yourself what is the first story or memorable concept your subject reminds you of. And then ask yourself how you can present it in an effective way.
Make Them Want to Keep Listening
As I touched on earlier, your opener can’t just be interesting in and of itself. It has to make sense: It has to end up convincing the audience they should listen to the rest of the speech.
For instance, I can tell a fascinating story, with dramatic flare, about an adopted child. And then I can say, “I want to speak to you about adoption today.” Well the story was great, but why should that mean the audience wants to hear the rest of the speech?
Instead, you might tell the same story about adoption, and then connect it to the audience. Whet their appetite! “Have you ever met an adopted child? Have you ever wondered what memories they might be dealing with? Or how you might be accidentally hurting them? Let’s talk about how adopted children need you to talk to them!”
Make it Memorable
There’s a statistic I don’t remember that says lifeless information like statistics aren’t as easy to remember as stories. When your audience gets home, they probably won’t remember the outline of your speech or all its details. But what they will remember is an awesome story or a shocking revelation.
So it’s absolutely vital to make your introduction not just momentarily amusing, but very memorable. If you want your audience to remember why being thankful is important, give them an incredible story they want to share with others, so that every time they recall the story, they are reminded of all you had to say about it.
Your Intro Matters Almost as Much as Your Subject
When I have to prepare a speech quickly, though I pay the most attention to choosing my subject and purpose, the intro is a close second. There are two reasons:
First, you can have an absolutely fantastic speech prepared, but if your audience isn’t still fascinated by the end of your intro, that fascinating speech will do no good. So your second highest priority in preparing your speech is planning your intro so well that your audience will definitely be listening to the rest of your speech.
Second, when you’re crunched for time, and possibly nervous, you can get away with being unsure of what all you’re going to say, as long as your intro is solidly prepared. At times, my intro is the only clear thing in my head when I actually start speaking. But then I have an extra minute or two of delivering the intro I’m already comfortable with, to think up the rest of my outline, even if I can only think of 1 or 2 quick points.
Takeaway: After you know your subject and purpose, your introduction is the most important part of your preparation. It must be fascinating and engaging in the moment, and it must interest the audience in hearing the rest: e.g: Dramatic story + how it applies to each audience member. It must be memorable. And being sure of your intro ahead of time frees you to use your first minute or two of speaking to decide what you’ll say next. As far as the actual content goes, your introduction is your highest priority–especially when you only have a couple minutes to prepare.
What is the most effectively an introduction has ever drawn you into a speech or presentation?
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