After reading this chapter, the student will be able to:
- Recognize the functions of introductions and conclusions.
- Identify the primary elements of a speech introduction.
- Identify the primary elements of a speech conclusion.
- Construct introductions and conclusions.
General Guidelines for Introductions and Conclusions
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 off the podium 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 to your audience what you are talking about.
If you remember back to Chapter 2, we talked about “planned redundancy” as a strategy for reminding the audience about your topic and what you are trying to accomplish with your speech. 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 her introduction and conclusion than just preview or review her topic and main points. The roles that introductions and conclusions fulfill are numerous, and, when done correctly, can make your speech stronger. The challenge with all this, though, is that the introduction and conclusion aren’t what your audience wants or needs to hear; that is primarily contained in 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. 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:
- rambling and meandering, not getting to the point;
- speaking to become comfortable;
- saying the specific purpose statement, especially as first words;
- choosing a technique that hurts credibility, such as pedantic (defining words like “love”) or a method that is not audience-centered;
- beginning to talk as you approach the platform or lectern—reach your destination, pause, smile, and begin;
- reading your introduction from your notes; it is vital to establish eye contact in the introduction, so knowing it very well is important;
- talking too fast; let your audience get used to your voice by speaking emphatically and clearly.
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:
- signal the end multiple times. In other words, no “multiple conclusions” or saying “As I close” more than once;
- rambling; if you signal the end, end;
- talking as you leave the platform or lectern
- indicating with facial expression or body language that you were not happy with the speech.
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.