A speech introduction plays a big role in how well you manage to grab attention. The problem is that the majority of introductions lead the listeners to believe that the presentation is utter crap. If the beginning of your speech is dubious, your listeners will be frustrated.
So, what is a good speech introduction? A good speech introduction draws the audience’s attention to you, raises interest and tells the listeners that something exciting is coming.
But if your prelude leaves the listeners thinking, „Meh?“, you’ll find yourself in a difficult situation. Therefore in today’s blog post I will tell you everything you should know about how to make a speech introduction that grabs attention.
What are the main objectives of a speech introduction?
The regular speaker has only two objectives:
- „I have to get it done somehow.” Note that the emphasis here is on the word „somehow”.
- „I have to get it done as soon as possible.” For the listener, it means a 30-minute speech made in 15 minutes.
However, these two objectives have nothing to do with the interests, needs, and expectations of listeners. And so it happens that in addition to a dull introduction, the entire presentation is quite boring.
I think that eight in ten presentations begin with „Hello, my name is…” and „I’m so lucky to be here”. Indeed, the message is important, but a good speech introduction offers much more. Your task is to be better than the regular speaker.
Broadly speaking, there are three objectives:
- Grabbing attention
- Raising interest
- Sharing background information and clarifying the rules
What’s the main purpose?
Clearly, the main purpose of a speech introduction is to raise interest. If you manage to do that right from the start, it’ll be easier for you to grab attention later on.
Some think that making an introduction is just saying what you’re going to talk about. Wrong! Your introduction should be able to make the audience want to listen to you even more. Tell your listeners why this topic is important and, most importantly, how they can benefit from your presentation.
Example 1: Which book are you more likely to read?
The one that starts with, „Jack was born in Berlin in 1961. His parents were Peter, a military officer, and Josephine“.
Or the one that starts like this, „The first bullet hit Jack’s shoulder“.
The latter, I’m sure, because it raises immediate interest and questions, „What did Jack do to get shot?“, or „The first bullet? So, he was shot more than once?“
Okay, but when will I be talking about other things?
Indeed, raising interest doesn’t mean that you don’t need to talk about yourself or your topic. You do, just don’t mention them first thing.
Example 2: Which introduction grabs your attention?
Is it the classic one, „Hello! I’m Janek, and today, I’ll be talking about public speaking“.
Or rather, „The human brain is a wonderful organ. It starts to work as soon as you are born and doesn’t stop until you’re in a situation like I am right now. This means that you have to face a group and talk about what interests them for two hours. Hello, I’m Janek and today, I’ll be talking about…“
As you can see, I used a story to raise interest, and then, mentioned other important things. These are just two examples how to raise interest right from the start. And this should be the main purpose of your introduction.
How long does a speech introduction need to be?
ln general, the rule of thumb for short speeches is that your prelude shouldn’t exceed 10-15% of the total volume of your presentation. Longer speeches, however, are based on the following rule: „The introduction must be substantially and temporally proportionate.“
Example 1: If you need to make a 30-minute speech, then more than 3-4 minutes long beginning tends to overdo it and say nothing.. Consequently, the 10-15% rule is appropriate here.
Example 2: If you need to make a 120-minute speech, a 12-18-minute introduction is too long. This means that the 10-15% rule doesn’t apply here, and a substantive and temporal proportion is more important.
Thus, an overly brief introduction may not raise interest, but an overly long introduction is simply annoying.
What parts does it consist of?
First of all, it should be noted right away that the tips below may vary depending on presentation. You must decide when to talk about one or another thing. For example, if the listeners are your acquaintances, skip self-introduction.
#1: Grabbing attention
A company organises an annual Christmas seminar, which will bring together ca. 100 people from all over the country. Before the start, coffee and cake is offered in the hall, and as the participants meet each other once a year (at a similar event), a lively conversation is all over the place… „Oh, Jack, you’re here as well? How are you?“
The main speaker buries themselves in their laptop, trying to get the projector to work. Once done, they lift their head, look at someone on the front row, and asking, „Shall we start?“ When they receive an affirmative answer, they start with their presentation, but in general, most people chatting in the room at the same time don’t even notice it!
So, this bizarre presentation goes on for about six minutes until somebody in the front row loses it and asks the people to be quiet. „Look! Please stop and pay attention to the speaker who’s been there for a while now.“ Finally, Jack & Co wake up and agree to talk later during the break.
Did you notice what happened in this introductory story? It was not the speaker drawing attention but a participant. But who should really do it? The speaker, obviously.
An effective speech introduction begins with a wake-up call
It’s likely that before the start, the listeners are busy with their own stuff: talking to each other, surf the Web on their laptops or mobiles, walking around, calling, etc. If your introduction is along the lines, „Well, let’s start. My name is…“, people in the third row may not even notice you.
Therefore, grabbing attention is vital, so think carefully about how to do it.
Wake-up calls you can use
Say nothing, just start by showing a relevant video clip. If it’s a humorous video, even better. It will definitely draw attention and make it much easier for you to continue. Note, however, that the clip shouldn’t be too long. I believe a 3-minute clip is the absolute maximum.
Audio or music
I once started one of my lectures playing the guitar. I summarised the purpose of the presentation playing the guitar at the same time. It soon turned into a joint singing, which, in turn, worked better than any morning coffee.
Stand in front of the audience and be silent
“Let thy speech be better than silence, or be silent.” – Dionysius Of Halicarnassus
Many don’t believe how effective it is. I’ve used this method from time to time. Go on stage, smile in a friendly way, and just stand there. Here’s a tip – try to establish eye contact with somebody from the audience, maybe with the loudest participant, or somebody else.
Once done, you’ll see how fast the rest of the group will try to silence the loudest one. My practice shows that just standing there in the front takes about 30 seconds to draw attention.
You can still artificially prolong the time to make the silence last. And then you start in such a way that everyone thinks, „Wow, that was mind-blowing…“
Do something unusual
For example, don’t start talking facing the listeners, but with your back turned. It may be confusing at first, but works really well. As soon as you’ve grabbed attention, face the listeners – you don’t want to cause them neck pain, right?
Question to the audience
Ask an exciting and relevant question that will make listeners ponder straight away. Here you have to think about how to make a good transition.
Good joke or story
For the sake of a good presentation, don’t start with the cliché, „Something funny happened to me on my way here“. Even if that was the case, nobody will believe you.
Still, making a good joke or two is usually a good idea. And if you’re able to make the listeners giggle during your introduction, you’ve done well. However, you must also remember that your joke must not be cruel or offensive in any way.
Bonus: Do whatever you like
To wrap up, I must say that, in essence, you can do everything you want to draw attention. As long as it meets the two requirements below, everything goes:
- The „wake-up call“ must be related to the topic
Think for yourself, what happens if you make a somersault with a loud cry as a speech introduction and then start without connecting what you’ve just done to your topic? Obviously, you will grab attention, but the listeners may mistake you for a schizophrenic. Starting with introduction, everything you do must be connected to the topic.
- Your listeners must be able to relate to what you do
Let’s go back to the previous example: even if you manage to connect the somersault to the topic, this approach may not be suitable for a particular audience. Younger listeners are likely to take it as a good joke, whereas older listeners might be puzzled. Therefore, remember to always think about the background of your listeners.
- Don’t try to be somebody else
This means that everything you do should make sense. As soon as you try to be someone else, you’re doomed. Even more so, if the listeners have seen the original. In other words, find your own style and adapt it to the two points above.
Have you seen a speaker giving you a lecture instead of making a speech introduction? They are showing a variety of slides using PowerPoint, with chronologically listed achievements, commenting, „And then I studied here…“ and „Then I worked there…“ At the same time, you’re surfing the Web and playing Solitaire.
Self-introduction is most often required if the listeners don’t know you. In this case, remember to briefly highlight the following things in your self-introduction:
- How you are connected with the topic
- What your experience is
- What your greatest achievements are
Please note that the emphasis here is on the word „briefly“. From time to time, you may need to make a presentation for the experts in the field. In that case, it would be reasonable to introduce your background in a few sentences. Otherwise, try not to be tempted to introduce yourself in too much detail.
#3: Introducing the topics
Here, it would be reasonable to outline the main topics you’re planning to talk about during your presentation. This gives the audience an overview of what to expect. You don’t have to cover all sub-topics and points but point out 3-4 most important ones.
#4: The purpose of the presentation
The fact that you outlined your topics in the previous paragraph doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone clearly understood the purpose of your presentation. You could say, „Today, we’ll be talking about how to make a speech introduction that grabs attention“, but the listeners may not understand why it’s so important to talk about in the first place.
Let the listeners know what to expect at the beginning of your speech. A clear description of your purpose is, to my mind, the best way to do that. You need to clearly outline what the main purpose of your presentation is and what you want to achieve. If your goal (or goals) is clearly worded, the listener will know how they can benefit from your presentation.
There are benefits also in the positive emotions you share with the listeners
Benefits are not always equivalent to money. Have you ever attended at a lecture or training, thinking, „But I already knew it… I just never thought about it in this way!“ It’s already good, right?
Sometimes, when you ask someone about how the presentation was, they’ll say „You know, it was awesome!“ If you specify if they learned anything new, they might even come to the conclusion that they haven’t, but the emotion is what counts. This is one of the tricks many coaches use.
For example, „My goal today is to give you an overview of the main causes of the fear of public speaking and share the tricks how to overcome it so that it doesn’t interfere with your presentation.“
#5: The schedule of the presentation
Before you read on, here’s a task. What do you think is the most important part of the schedule for the listeners? Wait, don’t read on, just think about it!
Is your answer is, „When will I make pauses?“ If so, you’re wrong.
The most important question is “When will you finish?”
Exactly. You could be the world’s best performer, but we all have a life outside the room, so when introducing the agenda, make sure to mention immediately what time you finish. If you fail to do this, be prepared that this will be the first question!
When will you make pauses?
Each audience has a number of passionate smokers who want to know when they can have a smoke. In addition, there is an even larger number of passionate coffee lovers who want to find out when they can have another cup. Well, and then there are a lot of other passionate people who want to know when they can have a walk.
Some people like to like to do the Q&A round in the end. Others don’t care if it’s in the beginning or in the end. Anyway, don’t forget to mention it in your introduction, encouraging the listeners to participate in the discussion and ask questions.
Extra piece of advice: In the case of a short presentation, do the Q&A round in the end Q
If your presentation is short (for example, up to 30 min), remember to mention in your prelude that the Q&A round happens in the end. Otherwise, it may happen that people will be asking questions on the go, which means running out of time.
#7: Sharing the background information
Some speakers believe that as soon as they’re done with the topics used to raise interest, it’s okay to transit to topic development. Unfortunately, there are many more questions that the listeners expect you to answer. Especially, if it’s a longer presentation.
You may have to share your contact information, information about downloading materials, and other things that are secondary but still important. I recommend to mention them last.
Extra piece of advice: avoid saying „Before I start“
I’ve heard several speakers starting their presentation with „Before I start…“ For example, „Before I start, here’s an announcement from the organisers. Namely, the lunch break will be at 12:30, not at noon sharp.“
First of all, what do you mean by saying „Before I start?” You already started. And secondly, you started with a negative message telling the obviously hungry listeners that they had to wait longer for their meal.
Most importantly, as the main purpose of your introduction to raising interest, how well do you think you managed to do that?
Do I always have to go through these points?
Not really. As I said at the beginning of this chapter, what you mention in your introduction depends primarily on who your listeners are and what the general situation is.
For example: if you need to make the same speech at a company meeting on Monday that you did last week, you don’t have to make a decent speech introduction but can get straight to the point.
Example 2: If you’re at your grandmother’s anniversary celebration, for which the whole family comes together, there may be people who don’t know you. In this case, a brief introduction is appropriate, but, obviously, you won’t be talking about some topics or rules.
Speech introduction as a full-course dinner
I remember waiting for lunch once after the first part of training. There was just water and a delicious strawberry dessert on the table. The dessert really looked great.
A girl named Teele sitting opposite me looked at the dessert and said, „It’s a pity we can’t have the dessert first.“ I was very surprised and asked, „But why?“
It turned out that the rules wouldn’t allow eating the dessert first. I laughed at it as it got me thinking, „A speech introduction is like a full-course dinner“.
Do you want to know how?
Appetiser = Grabbing attention
A proper full-course dinner starts with an appetiser. However, you don’t always get it. But if it’s a proper dinner, you shouldn’t worry.
As mentioned above, grabbing attention is one of the most important parts of your introduction, that’s why I advise you to think about it in several ways. Also remember that what might work well in a small room may not be as effective in a larger room.
Soup = Self introduction
Soup follows after the appetiser. Nice warm and thick soup is generally served more often.
In terms of making a presentation, this means that around eight presentations in ten start with, „Hello! My name is…“. If the soup is poor, in terms of making a presentation, this means a long history lesson on the topic Me, My Education, Work, Family, and Other Things. Some speakers even manage to prepare slides.
Main course = Overview of topics
The main course is most expected. Indeed, there are exceptions if a person orders soup instead of the main course, but we are talking in a generalised way right now.
A good main course is something juicy and tasty, something that gives you joy. A bad main course leaves you thinking you can’t be bothered to continue.
Dessert = Raising interest
Basically, it’s the same with the dessert. Quite often, you just don’t get it. Or you do, but you have to buy it yourself.
However, in the context of making a presentation, „dessert“ is the most important part of your introduction. You can introduce yourself and your topic, but if the audience isn’t interested in the rest of your presentation, you have obviously made a mistake in the beginning.
This, in turn, brings us back to the question I asked Teele in the beginning. Here’s the question:
Why can’t you have dessert first?
If the main purpose is to raise interest, why do you spend it on greetings and introducing yourself and your topics? Better think of the different ways to raise interest right from the start. There are different ways to do that, e.g., stories, examples, jokes, quotes, etc.
When should I have my speech introduction ready?
Humans are as lazy as you let them be, that’s why I advise you to write your introduction once the body and the summary of your presentation are ready. Surprisingly, introduction comes last.
Why? It may happen that if you get your introduction ready first thing, you may need to change it later after adjusting the original plan. For example, if you introduce new ideas that you didn’t plan at first, you will need to leave some original ideas out.
If you use the original speech introduction, you’ll promise something you may not be talking about. However, if you leave your introduction to the last, you’ll know exactly what to include.
Practicing your introduction
Making a good speech beginning requires a lot of effort. You can be the fastest man in the world, but if you fail to start off, you’ll never win a medal. In other words, if you are boring and you fail to grab interest, it will be much more difficult for you to do so in the body of your presentation.
Therefore, take your time to prepare and think through what you can do to draw attention and interest right from the start. If you’re making a longer speech and don’t have enough time to practice the entire speech, I definitely recommend to practice your introduction.
You’re probably more nervous at the beginning of the speech than as the speech progresses, so the fact that you’ve practiced your prelude repeatedly gives you a great deal of self-confidence.
To sum up: How to make a speech introduction that grabs attention?
A good start creates a great foundation for your success. So think carefully about what you do and how you do it. Starting your speech, you have just one chance to impress, positively influence, and interest the audience. If you fail to do it with your introduction, why do you think you will succeed later on?
Thus, I recommend the tips outlined in today’s blog post on how to make a good speech introduction to use in your next presentation.
The main thing you should keep in mind:
- It should make 10-15% of a presentation.
- A good start must seek attention. No matter how you do it, it must be related to the topic you’re talking about, the audience, you, and the positive environment you’re creating.
- It’s important to establish a relationship of sympathy between you and the audience.
- The main purpose of introducing your presentation is to raise interest. If the listeners are with you from the first moments, it’ll be easier for you to make the rest of the speech.
- Let the audience know who you are and why you’re making a speech.
- Describe what you’ll be talking about and give an overview of the structure of your presentation – how long it is, which topics you’re going to cover, if and when there will be pauses, when your speech ends.
- All listeners are always thinking about the same thing, „What benefit do I get from your presentation?“ Be sure to answer this question straight away.
- You should write your introduction last as only you know what you’ll be introducing. This way, you’ll also avoid including something in your introduction that you won’t be actually talking about.
What is an impromptu speech? An impromptu speech is a speech which given without any thorough preparation. It is five- to eight-minute speech with a characteristically short preparation time of couple of minutes. (full article here)
What is elevator pitch? An elevator pitch is a well-thought, meaningful, and repeatedly practisced brief (about 30-60 seconds long) overview of who you are, what you offer, and how your partner can benefit from it (full article here).
What is a persuasive speech?The main objective of a persuasive speech is to make your listeners do what you want them to do. For example, „buy my product“, „vote for me“, „believe what I’m talking about“, and so on. (full article here)