The introduction is arguably one of the most important parts of a speech. We all know that an audience will form an impression of you within seconds after you walk onto a stage and begin speaking. What happens during those first few seconds when you introduce yourself and your topic is crucial to capturing and holding your audience’s attention.

So, how do you introduce yourself and your topic when you are making a speech?

There are several methods available, such as the following:

  • Let someone else introduce you
  • Use humor
  • Use audience participation
  • Skip formal introductions
  • Tell a story
  • Ask a question
  • Open with a provocative statement

There are many different types of speeches given on a wide range of topics, so knowing which approach to use and what is appropriate for the setting you are speaking in, is critical to building a lasting connection with the audience. Read on to learn more about how you can introduce yourself and your topic at the start of a speech.

Let someone else introduce you

You only have a few precious seconds to establish rapport with the audience. Because of this, you should spend as little time introducing yourself as possible unless your personal story is one of the main reasons people are coming to hear you speak.

If people are coming because they are interested in the topic rather than your story, you should focus your introduction on the topic rather than on yourself. Speaking about yourself for too long in an introduction can make you seem uninteresting at best and arrogant at worst. One way around this is to let someone else introduce you and your topic.

This way, a master of ceremonies can brag about you a bit more and give you some credibility based on your achievements that you couldn’t gracefully list off about yourself without coming across as self-absorbed. If you plan to be introduced by someone else, make sure that you make the necessary arrangements ahead of time.

Use humor to introduce yourself and your topic

Humor can be a very useful tool when introducing yourself and your topic during a speech (Gregory). It accomplishes several different objectives:

  • Humour puts the audience at ease.
  • It gets the audience’s attention.
  • According to Psychology Today, humor humanizes the speaker and makes the audience like them, especially if the speaker is an intimidating subject matter expert.
  • Using humor illustrates knowledge and timing, which gives a speaker credibility with the audience.

Of course, there are some speaking situations where humor is not appropriate. Let’s take the example of a funeral service. Humour might be appropriate when telling an anecdote about a deceased loved one at a wake, but it would be considered impolite when delivering a formal eulogy.

Ultimately it is up to you as the speaker to decide whether using humor in the introduction of your speech is appropriate, given the context of the speaking venue. In some cases, it may be preferable to remain calm and authoritative. Humour can be a double-edged sword!

Use audience participation

Audience participation is one way of ensuring that the audience is paying attention because no one wants to be caught off-guard, not paying attention when the speaker calls out on them specifically. There are two techniques that you can use audience participation:

  • Asking individual audience members questions
    Getting a few of the audience members to introduce themselves as an icebreaker can take some pressure off you to introduce yourself and your topic, as it becomes a reciprocal activity.
  • Show of hands
    Polling the audience for how many believe or favor a position with regard to a topic is one surefire way to draw the audience’s attention to an introduction. You can follow up with questions to the audience to clarify their answers. This, in turn, can be a great transitional point to move into discussing the topic at hand.

Skip formal introductions

Rather than a lengthy formal introduction, it is sometimes preferable for a speaker to go right into the topic of the speech, and then spread bits and pieces of information about themselves throughout the talk.

This is a good way for a speaker to use themselves as practical examples so that they can demonstrate the subject matter throughout the speech.

This is also a good strategy to use when the speaker is not as important as the topic being discussed. If the topic’s importance outweighs the speaker’s importance, then it’s best to get introductions out of the way as quickly as possible, so the audience’s attention is not lost.

Tell a story to introduce yourself

Telling stories to introduce yourself and your topic in a speech or a presentation is a long-standing approach used by public speakers going back centuries and with good reason. Humans are naturally a storytelling species by evolutionary decree, and whenever someone begins to frame information into a story, it automatically draws the attention of the audience.

One way of using a story in the introduction is to tell only the beginning of the story at the start of the speech and then finish the story at the conclusion. This is a good way to structure a speech so that it feels well thought-out and is a smart way to make an impression on the audience at the start and the end of the speech.

Ask a question relating to the topic

Asking the audience a question is a good way to get their attention immediately because it puts them on the defensive and forces them to think about what you just said. That is not an exaggeration: science has proven that a question can hijack the brain in a cognitive process known as instinctive elaboration (Simon).

This means that you start your talk by asking the audience an icebreaker question, so that everyone in that audience is focused on the answer, and the rest of your talk can then be used to answer that question.

The power of this introductory method comes not only in its capacity to capture the audience’s attention but also in its ability to prevent the audience from thinking about anything else, even if they wanted to

Open with a provocative statement

Giving a talk at the end of a long day can be challenging, especially if the audience has already been subjected to hours upon hours of other people’s presentations, such as a multi-talk seminar or a large business conference.

Humans already have a rather low attention span, and scientific studies have shown that they can only focus effectively for ten to fifteen minutes at a time. This means that if you are the last or near the last speaker in a long line of speakers, your speech should have more impact than someone who gets to speak first.

Provoking the audience can be done either orally or visually. You can project a powerful image behind yourself on the stage to bring the audience’s attention forward and keep them focused, or you can open your introduction with a provocative statement.

This statement can be either related to the topic or not: an absurd or facetious provocative statement can be passed off as humor when the speaker moves on to their real subject matter, but it still gets the attention of the audience.

Introducing yourself at a speech can make or break it

Since an audience can form an opinion about a public speaker in less than a second (Wargo), it is critical that you know your audience, so that you know what approach to take to grab the audience’s attention as quickly as possible.

Using the above methods to introduce yourself and your topic clearly can help ensure that the audience remains engaged regardless of the topic being introduced.


References:

  • Gregory, K. “Tune Up! Tips and Tricks for Your Audience to Get the Most From Your Presentation.” SIGUCCS Conference 08, 2008, pp. 243-246
  • Simon, H. Administrative Behaviour. Free Press, 1997.
  • Wargo, E. “How Many Seconds to a First Impression?” Association for Psychological Science, 2006, July