For the Novice: From Hello to Goodbye
Creating powerful introductions and conclusions.
By Sally Paige Kahle
In the development of a speech, you often know what to say about the chosen subject in the middle part. But how do you craft an introduction that captures the audience’s attention and makes them eager for more? And when you have delivered your main message, how do you wrap it up to let the audience know the conclusion is coming? By deliberately planning the style and content of your hellos and goodbyes, the “frame” you build around your main message will be as satisfying as an appetizing salad before a tasty main course – and a fulfilling dessert after it.
For another food image to help your speeches, think of the main message – the body of your talk – as the meat in a hamburger. The introduction and conclusion are the bun parts, holding all the good stuff together. Old-fashioned approaches to public speaking advise, “Start off with a joke.” But unless the rest of your speech is humorous, a joke may be inappropriate to your subject matter. Inappropriate humor would be like wrapping cake frosting around meat – not exactly tasty.
The best openings and closings follow easy-to-learn patterns, and identifying the pattern is like following a cooking recipe: Once you decide on it, the rest is easy. You will choose some favorite patterns (like recipes) that you use over and over because they work well for you or fit your style. Later, you might try a new one for variety or for a special-occasion speech. Look at the list below for ideas:
Remembering the hamburger bun example, the introduction and conclusion should follow the same pattern. For example, if you use a question in the introduction, refer to that exact same question in the conclusion. In the conclusion, restate what you said in the introduction. The listener will remember and recognize that you are moving to the conclusion.
Here are some well-established “recipes” to try:
• Thought-Provoking or Intriguing Statement
Introduction: “The leading cause of death to pregnant women is murder.”
Conclusion: “So while the leading cause of death to pregnant women is murder, there are steps women can take to reduce risk. Please share this information with anyone you know who might use it.”
• Startling Statistics
Introduction: “One out of every three children in the United States is growing up in poverty. And yet, eight billion dollars a month is spent on the war in Iraq.”
Conclusion: “The United States can no longer afford to let a third of its children grow up in poverty. It’s time to stop the spending outside our country and focus on our own citizens.”
• Emotionally Appealing Short Story or Anecdote
Introduction: “Let me tell you about the last time I visited the local animal shelter....Old dogs, young dogs and puppies looked hopefully from behind bars to see if this human would take them home and love them. Brown eyes looked questioningly, and tails wagged hopefully, then stopped dejectedly as I walked past their cages. One dog, obviously distraught, lunged at the bars in fear of her life. She knew the chances of going home were next to zero.”
Conclusion: “If you do not neuter or spay your pet, I encourage you to visit the local animal shelter. Look into the eyes of the animals who did not choose to be born and then abandoned. As human beings, it is our responsibility to take care of the creatures who do not have the ability to control their own reproduction.”
Make sure it is an open-ended question, not a yes or no question. With a yes or no question, there is the risk of the listener mentally saying “yes” or “no,” and not listening to the rest of your speech. Open-ended questions use the words “how,” “what,” “where,” “who” or “why.”
Introduction: “What would you do if you won the lottery? Some people might go on a spending spree, while others might book nonstop travel arrangements. Hopefully, a few might decide to donate to the charity of their choice.”
Conclusion: “So if you won the lottery after hearing about all these types of charities, which ones would you donate to?”
• Compare or Contrast
Introduction: “While I grew up cooking with sugar, I’ve been experimenting with sugar substitutes for more healthful cooking. Not all sugar substitutes are equal (pun intended). Splenda, Equal, Sweet ‘N Low, honey and molasses are all slightly different in how they affect cooking. I’m here to tell you about my experiments in swapping out sugar with substitutes.”
Conclusion: “If you like to cook and are concerned about your sugar intake, or if you cook for a diabetic person, sugar substitutes have their pros and cons. It’s a discovery process in your very own kitchen. Have fun experimenting!”
The aforementioned examples are by no means a complete list of introduction and conclusion recipes. They represent frequently used varieties. You can even combine them, such as including a startling statistic with an emotionally appealing story. Example: “Let me tell you about the last time I visited the local animal shelter. Shelter staff told me that about 12 tons of euthanized animals must be safely disposed of in any given year.” This blended approach offers the benefits of both types of techniques and often increases their impact beyond what each would have garnered alone.
10 Tips to Remember
- Plan and practice your introduction and conclusion as carefully as you do the body of your speech.
- Use the same words in the introduction and conclusion – that is, don’t use “sugar substitute” and then switch to “fake sugar.”
- Don’t apologize or complain. Example: “I didn’t have much time to prepare this speech,” or “The Toastmasters manual was not clear on how I was to prepare this speech.”
- Do not offer dictionary definition without good reasons.
- Do not assume your audience already knows some of your subject matter. Avoid professional jargon and acronyms.
- Do not say “In conclusion....” or other obvious statements like “To end this speech” or “This is the end.”
- Do not go on to a new topic as part of your closing. Example: “Now since you know about sugar substitutes, if you want to learn how to reduce fat in your cooking, here are tips.”
- Do not change from the meat of your speech. Example: “So while one child of three in the United States grows up in poverty, as long as my kids are okay I don’t really care.”
The examples above give you an idea of recipes, but they need to be lengthened in your real speech. Plump out your introductions and conclusions to give the listener time to mentally adjust to what is heard.
Sally Paige Kahle is a freelance writer and member of Meadowlark Toastmasters in Topeka, Kansas.