Monday, January 5, 2015

Some more thoughts on writing a great introduction

I previously published another entry on writing introductions, but I realized I wanted to say a little more on the subject. So here it is. My goal was to help us write an introduction that's better than the rather lame and Toastmaster-y "Name - Speech Title - Speech Title - Name" introduction we often settle for in Toastmasters meetings.

Here's a way to think about your introduction. Everybody says your speech should start with something attention-grabbing. If you don't grab them in the first 30 seconds (says speech coach extraordinaire Patricia Fripp), you probably never will. So how attention-grabbing is it to start out by giving your name and giving a brief and probably tedious summary of what you're about to talk about? It's not! But, you say, how can I get that information in? After all, aren't I supposed to "tell 'em what I'm gonna tell 'em, then tell 'em, then tell 'em what I told 'em?"

Yes, but this doesn't mean you have to be the one tellin' 'em what you're gonna tell 'em. The answer is that you can have this information given in the speech introduction, before the speech even begins. Let the person introducing you - the Toastmaster of the Day at your meetings - give all that boring up-front information. That lets you hit your audience with something that will really grab their attention and keep them interested beyond the first 30 seconds of your speech. You can start them off with a memorable story or image, confident that the person introducing you has already given your audience the general idea of what you are going to speak about and who you are.

You might let your introducer - the poor Toastmaster of the Day in our meetings - try to write something for you, but let's help him or her do a great job. I think this is a better idea, as most introducers don't know how to write good introductions, either. The formula I like to use for writing introductions is the rule of the three C’s: Context, Content, Credibility. That is:

  • Context: something about the general subject area of the speech. This is where you set up the problem you're trying to solve with your speech. In other words: Why should the audience be interested in a speech about this subject?
  • Content: something about the speech itself. This is where you "tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em." This gives them, in a sentence or two, what the main idea of your speech is. All speeches, whether two minutes or two hours, should be able to be summarized at a high level in a couple of sentences. In other words: After this speech, what good things will the audience walk out with?
  • Credibility: something about the speaker. Here's your chance to give some indication of who you are and why you are qualified to give a speech like this. It also gives you a chance to get out of the way the most boring part of most people's speeches, and lets your praises come from somebody's mouth besides your own. In other words: Who are you and why should we listen to you?

The overall introduction should 4-5 sentences long. The last two words are always the same: the speaker’s name. To see how this works, here's a fictitious (if slightly meta) example that would make a good intro for a speech about how to write speech introductions:
(Context) Many Toastmasters don’t know a good formula for writing introductions. It seems like an impossible task. (Content) Our speaker tonight has a three-step system for writing a speech introduction that has been battle-tested. (Credibility) He has written speech introductions for many international heads of state and is eager to share his secrets with us. Please welcome: Chauncey McTavish.
Here's a real example from a speech I recently gave. In this case, I sort of mixed the Content and Credibility a bit because I thought it flowed better that way, but you can see the overall pattern:
They say wisdom is found bound up in stories. Perhaps this is why storytelling has been called one of the most important business skills to learn for the next five years. Our next speaker has just completed his CC award and is starting the advanced storytelling manual. Today he has a story for us, collected from India by storyteller David Novak, called "The Three Dolls." Please welcome Gary Bisaga.
Just to get you started right, here's the introduction to another speech I recently gave:
It is said that “Leadership is Communication”, but really it goes both ways. Our next speaker is going to tell us about “the forgotten manual” that every Toastmaster has, and why we shouldn't forget it. He is VP of Education here at Loudoun Toastmasters. Please welcome: Gary Bisaga.
Here's to writing better introductions! Until next time, speak well.


1 comment:

  1. I’d never heard of that 3 Cs model before, but I love it! (Did you hear it from Darren LaCroix or similar?)

    I must use that myself, as it sounds great.

    Thanks also for giving several concrete examples, to show exactly how it can work in practice.