Why Your

Speech Intros

Fail and 4

Strategies to

Fix Them

Do Your Introductions Sound Like This One?

Hopefully, your answer is no! If it’s yes, you’re wasting an opportunity to be more effective when you speak. Read On!

How likely are you to be effective if your audience:

  • Isn’t paying attention?
  • Doesn’t see how your topic relates to them?
  • Doesn’t know your qualifications to speak?
  • Can’t follow your message?

Your opening words can make or break your ability to connect with an audience. If you fail to capture an audience’s attention right at the start, the rest of your presentation can be a wasted effort. This post discusses four strategic steps that will help you engage more effectively with your audience. These steps help prepare the audience to be receptive to your message.

Grab Audience Attention

You can’t assume an audience is paying attention when you first start speaking – their minds may be a thousand miles away. Just because you’ve started talking doesn’t mean the audience has started listening.

Your opening words should jolt your audience to attention, as it did for Harry, here below!

On the left are some great attention-getting techniques, if they’re done right. I’ve seen and heard these techniques used many, many times before and far too many of them don’t accomplish their goal: stories with no point, statistics that confuse, questions with no impact. If you’re going to use one these methods, do it right.

Regardless of which attention-getting technique you use, make sure it’s related to your specific topic. If the audience doesn’t see the connection between your opener and your topic, they’ll likely become confused and tune out.

If you feel some reference to the group or the occasion is expected, save those remarks until after you’ve gotten the audience involved. Don’t make thanking the group the first thing you say.

Say Topic and Show Its Relevance to Audience

Once you’ve secured the audience’s initial attention, you’ll need to maintain it. Your topic is obviously important to you, but you can’t assume listeners will necessarily feel the same way. Humans tend to be egocentric. In a public speaking context, this means they care most about messages that directly affect them in their personal and professional lives.

The typical audience mindset is this:

“Why should I listen to your presentation on THIS TOPIC?” “What’s in It for ME” (WIIFM)

You may be familiar with the term “WIIFM!” It’s been around awhile. WIIFM refers to the idea that audiences, customers, co-workers and well just about everybody, will more likely pay attention to messages that affect them directly both in their personal and professional lives. Your task here is to show them how your message affects them directly. People don’t always see the benefits of ideas for them right away. You must help them make this connection. Be straightforward and tell them!

Shift from WIIFM to WIIFY

Don’t say “organizations can benefit from hearing this talk.” Make it more personal, by saying “You” or “your company,” so that your talk becomes WIIFY.

Say something like: “You may be asking yourself: “Why do I need a (fill in the blank here)? How can it benefit my company? Well, here’s why you need it and here’s how it will help you.”

You’ll have to work harder with captive audiences to get their interest since they didn’t choose to attend your talk voluntarily. But even with voluntary audiences, don’t assume every listener will see how your talk is relevant to them.

If it’s appropriate and practical to do so, analyze your audience ahead of time to get a sense how important the topic is for them before you write your presentation.

Explain Your Credibility

Once the audience understands WIIFM for the topic, you’ll then need to address another question they’ll likely have:

“Why should I listen to YOU give this presentation?

 Here is where you share your qualifications to speak on the topic. It’s a good idea to address this early in your talk so that the audience won’t be wondering about your credentials during the presentation. This step is particularly important when you are trying to persuade an audience to your point of view.

Base the credibility statement on your education, training, research, work or life experience, anything that’s relevant. Give your credentials or qualifications confidently, but NEVER sound arrogant or boastful.

Important: The Credibility step should follow the WIIFY step because it only becomes important AFTER the audience decides the topic is relevant to them. If the audience doesn’t care about your topic, they’re probably not going to care who it is talking about it.

Preview Main Ideas

As the last part of your introduction, provide a preview of the main ideas you plan to cover in your talk.

A preview provides a road map for the journey of ideas that you’ll share with the audience, helping them to mentally follow your presentation. This process is very similar to the map on your GPS system, which alerts you what to expect on your driving journey.

There is a rule in public speaking that goes like this: “Tell them what you’re going to say” (Preview); “Say it” (Body); “Tell them what you’ve said” (Conclusion). This use of repetition is a well-known and highly effective learning tool — the more times an audience hears something, the more likely they will understand and remember it.

You may not want to provide a specific preview of your solution if you’re giving a persuasive speech to an audience that isn’t aware of your persuasive intent. An audience might turn against you as soon as they learn of your solution before you’ve had a chance to explain the reasons for your plan.

General Guidelines

Here are some general guidelines for using introductions successfully:


  1. Will every presentation you do require all four steps? NO! For each talk, decide which, if any parts can be modified or omitted.
  2. Don’t start by giving a lot of detailed information. Ease them into your topic gradually. Save details for the body of the speech, when they are more likely paying attention.
  3. Write your introduction last to make sure it fits with the final version of your presentation
  4. Keep your introduction to approximately 10-15% of your total speaking time.
  5. It’s a good idea to memorize your introduction, especially your attention-getter for a couple of reasons. First, you’ll make a great first impression on your audience. Second, since you’re likely to be most nervous right before you speak and during your opening words, memorizing the opener will help you get over that initial hump. Your nervousness will go down dramatically after your opening words.
  6. While your introduction (and conclusion) can have more intensity than the body of your talk, don’t exaggerate your tone so much that it sounds like there’s two different speakers: one person for the opening and closing and a totally different person for the middle of your talk.