Know the Rules
Introductions and conclusions - ESU's guidance for speakers(5)
The start and end are the most difficult, and in some ways the most important, parts of your speech. You should plan them carefully and know them off by heart.
Your introduction is the very first impression you will make on the audience, so make it a good one. Rather than explaining, in a dry way, what your topic is about, try to grab the audience’s attention first, by making the topic sound relevant to them.
For example, rather than saying this:
“Today I want to talk about global warming caused by carbon emissions. I will show how the rise in global temperatures will lead to inundations of low-lying ground, droughts and food shortages in some areas, disruption to the ecosystem and civil unrest. I will then tell you what we can do to stop these effects from
“Floods; famines; plagues of locusts; war, death and destruction on a worldwide scale - no, not prophecies from the bible, not the scenes of some Hollywood disaster movie, but predictions for the real world in the next twenty years from top scientists, if we continue pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and altering the global climate. In my speech I want to show you how easy it could be to avoid this doomsday scenario, if we only wake up to the reality that this time it’s fact, not fiction.”
Conclusions are the last thing an audience hears, so should leave them sure of what you have said and thoughtful about their own approach to it. This could be achieved, for example, by a rhetorical question to set the audience as a departing challenge – but remember to be sure that you have already provided the answer to the question beyond doubt – rhetorical questions are meant to be answered by you, not by the audience!
For example this conclusion provides the answer to the question it poses in no uncertain terms:
“So I have shown you the precipice on which we stand, and which, at our current rate of carbon dioxide production, we seem doomed to topple into. I have shown you how easy it would be to turn our heads away, to ignore the signs, to hope that the problem will go away, solve itself, or will only affect our descendants, not us. I have agreed that sometimes it can feel hopeless to think that our small actions can possibly affect a problem so widespread on a planet so huge. But I have also explained today that our actions do make a difference, that we do have reason to hope, and that although our actions will cost us time, effort and money, they must be taken if we are to avoid the greater cost of the end of our way of life. So which will you do, ladies and gentlemen – turn your heads, and hope against hope, even as the wind whistles past your ears, that we won’t fall off that precipice; or wake up, face the problem and do your part to solve it, and feel proud when you are able to show your grandchildren the world you have bequeathed to them, which they so nearly didn’t inherit. Only you can make that decision – what will
Reproduced by permission from the Centre for Speech and Debate of ESU (The English-Speaking Union)
©Competition Handbook 2007
The English-Speaking Union
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