ATTENTION GRABBERS: OPENING AND CLOSING
GAMBITS FOR WRITING
Johnie H. Scott, M.A., M.F.A.
Associate Professor of Pan African Studies
4) thesis statement
I’ve prepared this with three purposes in mind that are all related to improving the ability of aspiring writers to (1) capture the audience’s attention from the onset with effective, clearly-written and articulated openings for paragraphs and longer compositions, (2) present cleanly-written and carefully-formulated thesis statements, and (3) finish compositions with strong, forceful conclusions that leave the reader talking and with something to think about.
I want to acknowledged a scholarly debt of gratitude to John Langan (i.e., College Writing Skills), Ronald S. Lunsford and Bill Bridges (i.e., The Longwood Guide to Writing), Philip Eggers (i.e., Process & Practice), and Tammy L. Boeck and Megan C. Rainey (Connections: Writing, and Critical Thinking) for their own work in the area of opening and closing essay stratagems. At the same time, credit must also be given to Deanne K. Milan (i.e., Developing Reading Skills) and John Roloff (i.e., Paragraphs) for the extensive attention they gave to improving the reading and basic writing skills of young writers.
Finally, a sincere note of appreciation has to be extended to my colleagues and associates in the Writing Program of the Pan African Studies Department at California State University, Northridge from the time this was first written some 15 years ago in 1986: Dr. Rosentene B. Purnell (Professor Emeritus and founder of the PAS Writing Program as well as author of Bridges: Ways of Approaching Written Discourse), Dr. Tom Spencer-Walters (Chairperson of the Department and founding editor of Kapu-Sens), and Professors King Edward Carter, Professor and author Herbert A. Simmons (i.e., Man Walking On Eggshells, Corner Boy and Tough Country), and Eric Priestley (i.e., author of Raw Dog and Abracadabra). I thank each for the insights and observations over the years of commitment to developing voices among the students matriculating through the PAS Writing Program. To Simmons and Priestley, in particular, I give a heartfelt thanks for continuing the Watts Writers Workshop tradition of which we were all part of.
Much has been made over the years about the importance of experience – very simply, of working at one’s craft…whatever that craft might be. In Robert Townsend’s critically-acclaimed feature film The Five Heartbeats, the central character is an aspiring writer. We hear the statement made by this character (played by Townsend), “To be a true writer, you have to suffer before learning what writing really is.”
Well, my mother, who was not a writer, was not nearly so fanciful in saying to me during my grade school years that I would “have to pay a lot of dues before amounting to anything in this world.” For those reading this, I am saying that writing is not something to be mastered in five easy lessons. Writing has to be worked at – and worked at constantly, every single day. You have to read along the way – whether that reading take the form of newspapers, news magazines, comic books, popular fiction like Walter Mosley’s Walkin’ the Dog, cultural criticism such as that done by Michael Eric Dyson with Race Rules: Navigating the Color Line, or major writers like Toni Morrison with Paradise or Ralph Ellison’s Juneteenth. The point I’m making is that a person reads in order to develop, expand and appreciate the power of the word, of vocabulary, of being able to express themselves without stretching for meanings beyond their grasp.
Having said that, my intent is to present another approach to writing. This article is based upon my own experiences as a writer and in the classroom – and I do this as someone whose ability and love for writing enabled me to move up out of the Jordan Downs Housing Projects in South central Los Angeles, pass through Harvard, Stanford and Antioch Universities, and settle into a position where I can now share my love for the craft and love of writing itself with others. For those of you concerned solely with writing better paragraphs and essays, what I have to say should offer some insights on accomplishing that task. For those of you, though, who see writing as a means to affect social attitudes and change the way people view issues (and one another), perhaps what I have to say will help jar some now thoughts into existence. I certainly hope so.
“The Hook”: Getting the Reader’s Attention
How many times have you opened your mailbox to see one of those large, brown envelopes with large lettering boldly announcing that you have been “Pre-Approved” and stand to be “An Instant Winner!” It doesn’t matter that the letter may have come from some publishing clearinghouse. You take a seat in your living room, perhaps at the breakfast nook in your kitchen where you then pause for a moment or two while hefting the envelope from one hand to the other. In your mind, you imagine what it would be like to be a sweepstakes winner – and think back to that happy face of the person who hit the Super Lottery for $70 million. You find yourself thinking of what being an “instant winner” could do in changing your own personal fortunes: payoff outstanding loans, clear past due accounts from your credit report, make it finally possible to take that “Dream Vacation.” Perhaps you even call in family, or a close friend, telling them about this strange letter – wanting them present when you open the envelope.
You do so very carefully, removing the contents which include the facsimile of a $100,000 check bearing your name and a series of numbers --- one of which, you are told, is yours “to keep” and follow in the hope that it will be drawn at a lottery sometime in the not-so-distant future. Excited now with the adrenalin pumping, you put the number series to the side and read on. This is when you get “the pitch” from the company sponsoring the lottery: purchase one or more of their products with the notation that “failing to do so will not detract from your ability to win the $100,000 Grand Sweepstakes Prize!”
In marketing circles, this is referred to as “The Hook”: it is a 20-second window of opportunity wherein marketers gain your attention and make their sale. That 20-second window of opportunity is true for all audiences. Knowing that it exists and how to make the most effective use of that window is one of the reasons why good writers use strategies to immediately gain the reader’s attention. Good writers know that one of the most serious errors that can be made is by opening up right away with the main purpose of the writing – this is an automatic turnoff for the reader!
Think back to that brown, “Pre-Approved Instant Winner” envelope with the facsimile check! Imagine that same envelope in your mailbox, opening it up and immediately being hit on the head with “Buy this.” Without a doubt, that envelope would go sailing into the trash can. With today’s audiences becoming increasingly sophisticated and demanding, there is a premium on the attention span available. You have to make the most of that time. Knowing about and being able to make effective use of the various opening strategies can only enhance your skills as a writer.
There are, as a matter of fact, seven (7) proven opening gambits or strategies for one’s paragraphs and/or longer compositions:
1) Begin with a broad, general statement that you narrow down to your thesis statement. Keep in mind that the thesis provides the main idea for the entire composition;
2) Use a question or series of thought-provoking questions. When using this gambit, it is very effective to state these questions as a series of one-liners (i.e., paragraphs) before getting to the thesis. Just keep in mind at all times that the questions you raise do more than merely set a tone for your paper, those questions sooner or later must be answered;
3) Use quotations. The best quotes are those drawn from popular culture, from the social literature the general public (i.e., your targeted audience) is acquainted with. If you are writing to a politically conservative audience, then you might want to open with a quote from a noted conservative. If the audience is perceived as a hip, upwardly-mobile group of African-American women, then you might want to open with a statement from someone like Joan Morgan, bell hooks, June Jordan, Sonia Sanchez, Alice Walker or SistahSouljah.If, on the other hand, you are directing your message to a teenaged readership based in the urban core, you might want to open with a quote from the socially conscious lyrics by one of the leading rap artists or groups. Who would you use, for instance, if the paper was centered on the problems caused by gang violence? Use quotes, in other words, that connect with your audience!
4) Use an anecdote. All audiences enjoy a story, particularly those with human interest. In this instance, you are putting a face (or faces) to your composition by drawing upon an incident containing a moral center, one that you can then use in leading your audience to the thesis statement. Here again, the best anecdotes are those coming from popular culture: from stories and events that people are aware of and talking about.
5) State the importance of the topic. You do this by presenting statistical data, facts, figures that underscore the issues about to be discussed. The data must be pertinent, validated and presented in an objective manner free of any editorializing – the facts speak for themselves;
6) Use the opposite of what you plan to write about. This is done for dramatic effect, as in “What if the world were like this instead of what the world, or situation about to be discussed, truly is?” Readers are often fascinated, intrigued by this type of approach; And lastly,
7) Use a combination of the strategies. This is best done by using two of the six gambits. Your more skilled writers frequently make use of this, the seventh and final opening gambit.
The Thesis Statement
All of these opening strategies, or essay gambits, have one purpose and that is to focus the audience on your purpose for writing: your thesis statement. This statement is best seen as a single, complete sentence containing the main idea of the entire composition with at least three (3) patterns by which you intend to develop and support that subject. You could not write a very good or insightful essay, for example, if your thesis was “The Hyundai is a great car.” That statement by itself is both vague and general. It has no focus and fails to give the audience anything in terms of where the composition is going. On the other hand, the audience receives a clear sense of direction from a thesis statement that reads “Because of its great gas mileage, low maintenance, and outstanding road handling on highways and city streets, the Hyundai is a great car.”
From this thesis statement, we know that you are going to write about (1) the great gas mileage a Hyundai gets in comparison to other cars, (2) the low maintenance and monies saved in repairs with the Hyundai in contrast to other vehicles, and (3) the responsive way the Hyundai handles on the road in relationship to other cars on the highways and city streets. Those three patterns of development all contribute to and support the main idea, which is that the Hyundai is a great car. They do so in a logical, orderly fashion which is what your readership expects in a well-organized composition.
By the same token, you need to now about the four (4) most common errors made when fashioning thesis statements:
- Do not make announcement. One of the sure signs of the struggling writer is the telltale “In this paper I am going to write about” or the even more deadly (and monotonous) “The purpose of this paper is…” Announcements are a sure way of insulting the intelligence of your readership. Don’t make announcements (“For the next 750 words I am going to…” which leads the reader to start counting your words rather than concentrating on what you are trying to communicate!) or tell the reader what you plan to write about – allow the writing to communicate the story!
- Do not make the thesis too broad. This happens when the writer has failed to carefully think out or plan what the actual subject is going to be. Imagine a thesis statement that asserts “The Civil War was the turning point in American race relations.” Scholars, historians, and many others have written volumes on that subject! This is not the sort of thesis statement you would put forth for a research paper or essay topic due the following week. It is entirely too broad and general.
- Do not make the thesis statement too narrow or specific. Again, this is a result of failing to fully think through what one is going to write about. It is very much like painting oneself into a corner, away from any exit, and being left with no way out. Imagine, for example, having to write a paper with the thesis being “This table is made out of wood.” While such a sentence might lend itself to a few sentences (at best), one certainly could not hope to go any further than that. By always incorporating those three (3) patterns of development into your thesis statement, the error of being too narrow or specific will be avoided; and finally,
- Do not make your thesis statement too vague. This error usually results from fuzzy, unclear thinking. If the thesis is unclear to you, then it will be unclear and, even worse, confusing to your readers. “The California Condor is an interesting bird” does nothing for the reader. It invites confusion by raising too many questions. “Interesting” meaning what? To who? Why? Here, once again, the confusion can be avoided by incorporating those three (3) patterns of development into the thesis statement.
Synergy – Bringing Everything Together:
Effective writing comes, first of all, from being precise and logical in one’s thinking process. When structuring paragraphs, essays and other compositions that work for the reader – and keep in mind that when writing for the public, that audience always comes first! – consideration must be given to capturing and then holding the attention of the reader. You accomplish this by using the opening gambits or strategies that I have identified here, each of which leads the reader to what hopefully will be a well-formulated, clearly-articulated thesis statement (i.e., the main idea of the entire composition). Your reader(s) should be able to follow that thesis in a logical and orderly fashion to the conclusion.
I like telling my students, however, that concluding or wrapping up a paper is just as important as getting the reader’s attention in the first place. You want to writer something that leaves an impression in the mind of your audience, a belief that they have been given something of considerable worth. This is best achieved by using any one of the following six (6) closing gambits (Again, there are actually eight but students who follow-through with me into 155 Freshman Composition will pickup the remaining two at that level):
1) Restate the main points raised in the paper. What you are doing here is to repeat for your readers those patterns of development first articulated in the thesis statement; in effect, you are now tying the package together.
2) Close with a quotation. This can be a very effective means for closing out an essay. It adds style and grace to the writing. The best quotes, again, come out of popular culture or wisdom. The quote(s) should be directly related to the subject matter. Using quotes definitely gives your audience the impression that you are in control of the material.
3) Close with an anecdote. Once more, we are dealing with readability. Audiences love good stories, those that have a core, a sensibility. The writer who can close a composition with a brief story is certainly going to leave a memorable impression on the readers.
4) Restate the main point and end with a thought-provoking question. Anytime you can focus the audience on the main point of your writing, then leave them with something to mull over once they have finished the reading, then you have succeeded.
5) End with a prediction or recommendation based upon the subject matter. Remember that the prediction reflects what might or will take place if the assertion in your thesis is not followed through or acted upon. This engages the audience into actions which is always a positive effect. In the same vein, giving the audience a recommendation or series of recommendations is effective in that you are providing them with a list of actions they can take. This moves the audience from passive readers to active doers.
6) End with a Call for Action. This is proactive, engaging writing that makes your audience aware that what they have read is not merely brain candy, but a serious call by the writer for them to act upon what has been put on the table. This conclusion keeps your readership stimulated.
7) Close with a thought-provoking question, one that stands by itself and leads the reader to wonder, “What if?”
Good writing calls for practice and commitment. One of the keys to being an effective writer is remembering your audience, keeping them in mind, understanding that the best audience is one that takes an active rather than passive role in reading what it is that you are trying to get across. The opening and closing strategies that have been discussed here are proven means for accomplishing that exact purpose. At the same time, you have been given a list of the do’s and don’ts in developing thesis statements. To become really adept at writing, though, you have to read: widely and broadly. Reading will give you access not only to new information but, even more, will expose you to different writing styles and ways of expression that can only enhance and improve your own.
1) The author provides seven (7) different gambits or strategies for starting one’s paper. What are those seven and provide your own original example(s) in explaining each one.
2) What is a thesis statement? The author lists the four most common errors in the construction of thesis statements. What are those errors and which one(s) give you the greatest difficulty? Why?
3) In this essay, you have been provided with eight different techniques for concluding one’s paragraphs and longer compositions. Identify each of the eight techniques and briefly give your own, original examples and illustrations in explaining each one.
4) What has been the greatest value or insight this particular assignment has given you? Why? In what way(s) has it expanded on your previous knowledge and awareness of ways in which to open and close your writing.
- Understand the different tools speakers can use to gain their audience’s attention.
- Name some common mistakes speakers make in trying to gain attention.
Stephen Velasco – IMG_1422 – CC BY-NC 2.0.
As you know by now, a good introduction will capture an audience’s attention, while a bad introduction can turn an audience against a speaker. An attention-getter is the device a speaker uses at the beginning of a speech to capture an audience’s interest and make them interested in the speech’s topic. Typically, there are four things to consider in choosing a specific attention-getting device:
- Appropriateness or relevance to audience
- Purpose of speech
First, when selecting an attention-getting device, you want to make sure that the option you choose is actually appropriate and relevant to your specific audience. Different audiences will have different backgrounds and knowledge, so you should use your audience analysis to determine whether specific information you plan on using would be appropriate for a specific audience. For example, if you’re giving a speech on family units to a group of individuals over the age of sixty-five, starting your speech with a reference to the television show Gossip Girl may not be the best idea because the television show may not be relevant to that audience.
Second, you need to consider the basic purpose of your speech. As discussed earlier in this text, there are three basic purposes you can have for giving a speech: to inform, to persuade, and to entertain. When selecting an attention-getter, you want to make sure that you select one that corresponds with your basic purpose. If your goal is to entertain an audience, then starting a speech with a quotation about how many people are dying in Africa each day from malnutrition may not be the best way to get your audience’s attention. Remember, one of the basic goals of an introduction is to prepare your audience for your speech. If your attention-getter differs drastically in tone from the rest of your speech (e.g., dying in Africa when you want your audience to laugh), the disjointedness may cause your audience to become confused or tune you out completely.
Your third basic consideration when picking an attention-getting device is your speech topic. Ideally, your attention-getting device should have a relevant connection to your speech. Imagine if a speaker pulled condoms out of his pocket, yelled “Free sex!” and threw the condoms at the audience in the beginning of a speech about the economy. While this may clearly get the audience’s attention, this isn’t really a good way to prepare an audience for a speech about bull and bear markets. Not every attention-getter is appropriate for a given topic. Instead, a speaker could start this speech by explaining that “according to a 2004 episode of 60 Minutes, adults in the United States spend approximately $10 billion annually on adult entertainment, which is roughly the equivalent to the amounts they spend attending professional sporting events, buying music, or going out to the movies” (Leung, 2004). Notice how effective the shocking statistic is in clearly introducing the monetary value of the adult entertainment industry.
The last consideration when picking an attention-getting device involves the speech occasion. Different occasions will necessitate different tones, or particular styles or manners of speaking. For example, a persuasive speech about death and dying shouldn’t be happy and hilarious. An informative speech on the benefits of laughing shouldn’t be dull, dreary, and depressing. When selecting an attention-getter, you want to make sure that the attention-getter sets the tone for the speech.
Now that we’ve explored the four major considerations you must think of when selecting an attention-getter, let’s look at a range of different attention-getters you may employ. Miller (1946) discovered that speakers tend to use one of eleven attention-getting devices when starting a speech. The rest of this section is going to examine these eleven attention-getting devices.
Reference to Subject
The first attention-getting method to consider is to tell your audience the subject of your speech. This device is probably the most direct, but it may also be the least interesting of the possible attention-getters. Here’s an example:
We are surrounded by statistical information in today’s world, so understanding statistics is becoming paramount to citizenship in the twenty-first century.
This sentence explicitly tells an audience that the speech they are about to hear is about the importance of understanding statistics. While this isn’t the most entertaining or interesting attention-getter, it is very clear and direct.
Reference to Audience
The second attention-getting device to consider is a direct reference to the audience. In this case, the speaker has a clear understanding of the audience and points out that there is something unique about the audience that should make them interested in the speech’s content. Here’s an example:
As human resource professionals, you and I know the importance of talent management. In today’s competitive world, we need to invest in getting and keeping the best talent for our organizations to succeed.
In this example, the speaker reminds the audience of their shared status as human resource professionals and uses the common ground to acknowledge the importance of talent management in human resources.
Another way to capture your listeners’ attention is to use the words of another person that relate directly to your topic. Maybe you’ve found a really great quotation in one of the articles or books you read while researching your speech. If not, you can also use a number of sources that compile useful quotations from noted individuals. Probably the most famous quotation book of all time is Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (http://www.bartleby.com/100), now in its seventeenth edition. Here are some other websites that contain useful databases of quotations for almost any topic:
Quotations are a great way to start a speech, so let’s look at an example that could be used for a speech on deception:
Oliver Goldsmith, a sixteenth-century writer, poet, and physician, once noted that “the true use of speech is not so much to express our wants as to conceal them.”
Reference to Current Events
Referring to a current news event that relates to your topic is often an effective way to capture attention, as it immediately makes the audience aware of how relevant the topic is in today’s world. For example, consider this attention-getter for a persuasive speech on frivolous lawsuits:
On January 10, 2007, Scott Anthony Gomez Jr. and a fellow inmate escaped from a Pueblo, Colorado, jail. During their escape the duo attempted to rappel from the roof of the jail using a makeshift ladder of bed sheets. During Gomez’s attempt to scale the building, he slipped, fell forty feet, and injured his back. After being quickly apprehended, Gomez filed a lawsuit against the jail for making it too easy for him to escape.
In this case, the speaker is highlighting a news event that illustrates what a frivolous lawsuit is, setting up the speech topic of a need for change in how such lawsuits are handled.
You may also capture your listeners’ attention by referring to a historical event related to your topic. Obviously, this strategy is closely related to the previous one, except that instead of a recent news event you are reaching further back in history to find a relevant reference. For example, if you are giving a speech on the Iraq War that began in 2003, you could refer back to the Vietnam War as way of making a comparison:
During the 1960s and ’70s, the United States intervened in the civil strife between North and South Vietnam. The result was a long-running war of attrition in which many American lives were lost and the country of Vietnam suffered tremendous damage and destruction. Today, we see a similar war being waged in Iraq. American lives are being lost, and stability has not yet returned to the region.
In this example, the speaker is evoking the audience’s memories of the Vietnam War to raise awareness of similarities to the war in Iraq.
Another device you can use to start a speech is to tell an anecdote related to the speech’s topic. An anecdote is a brief account or story of an interesting or humorous event. Notice the emphasis here is on the word “brief.” A common mistake speakers make when telling an anecdote is to make the anecdote too long. Remember, your entire introduction should only be 10 to 15 percent of your speech, so your attention-getter must be very short.
One type of anecdote is a real story that emphasizes a speech’s basic message. For example, here is an anecdote a speaker could use to begin a speech on how disconnected people are from the real world because of technology:
In July 2009, a high school girl named Alexa Longueira was walking along a main boulevard near her home on Staten Island, New York, typing in a message on her cell phone. Not paying attention to the world around her, she took a step and fell right into an open manhole (Whitney, 2009).
A second type of anecdote is a parable or fable. A parable or fable is an allegorical anecdote designed to teach general life lessons. The most widely known parables for most Americans are those given in the Bible and the best-known fables are Aesop’s Fables (http://www.aesopfables.com). For the same speech on how disconnected people are with the real world because of technology, the speaker could have used the Fable of The Boy and the Filberts:
The ancient Greek writer Aesop told a fable about a boy who put his hand into a pitcher of filberts. The boy grabbed as many of the delicious nuts as he possibly could. But when he tried to pull them out, his hand wouldn’t fit through the neck of the pitcher because he was grasping so many filberts. Instead of dropping some of them so that his hand would fit, he burst into tears and cried about his predicament. The moral of the story? “Don’t try to do too much at once” (Aesop, 1881).
After recounting this anecdote, the speaker could easily relate the fable to the notion that the technology in our society leads us to try to do too many things at once.
While parables and fables are short and entertaining, their application to your speech topic should be clear. We’ll talk about this idea in more detail later in this chapter when we discuss how to link your attention-getter explicitly to your topic.
The eighth device you can use to start a speech is to surprise your audience with startling information about your topic. Often, startling statements come in the form of statistics and strange facts. The goal of a good startling statistic is that it surprises the audience and gets them engaged in your topic. For example, if you’re giving a speech about oil conservation, you could start by saying, “A Boeing 747 airliner holds 57,285 gallons of fuel.” You could start a speech on the psychology of dreams by noting, “The average person has over 1,460 dreams a year.” A strange fact, on the other hand, is a statement that does not involve numbers but is equally surprising to most audiences. For example, you could start a speech on the gambling industry by saying, “There are no clocks in any casinos in Las Vegas.” You could start a speech on the Harlem Globetrotters by saying, “In 2000, Pope John Paul II became the most famous honorary member of the Harlem Globetrotters.” All four of these examples came from a great website for strange facts (http://www.strangefacts.com).
Although startling statements are fun, it is important to use them ethically. First, make sure that your startling statement is factual. The Internet is full of startling statements and claims that are simply not factual, so when you find a statement you’d like to use, you have an ethical duty to ascertain its truth before you use it. Second, make sure that your startling statement is relevant to your speech and not just thrown in for shock value. We’ve all heard startling claims made in the media that are clearly made for purposes of shock or fear mongering. As speakers, we have an ethical obligation to avoid playing on people’s emotions in this way.
Another strategy for getting your audience’s attention is to ask them a question. There are two types of questions commonly used as attention-getters: response questions and rhetorical questions. A response question is a question that the audience is expected to answer in some manner. For example, you could ask your audience, “Please raise your hand if you have ever thought about backpacking in Europe” or “Have you ever voted for the Electoral College? If so, stand up.” In both of these cases, the speaker wants her or his audience to respond. A rhetorical question, on the other hand, is a question to which no actual reply is expected. For example, a speaker talking about the importance of HIV testing could start by asking the audience, “I have two questions that I’d like you to think about. How many students on this campus have had sexual intercourse? Of those who have had sex, how many have been tested for HIV?” In this case, the speaker does not expect the audience to give an estimate of the numbers of students that fit into each category but rather to think about the questions as the speech goes on.
Humor is another effective method for gaining an audience’s attention. Humor is an amazing tool when used properly. We cannot begin to explain all the amazing facets of humor within this text, but we can say that humor is a great way of focusing an audience on what you are saying. However, humor is a double-edged sword. If you do not wield the sword carefully, you can turn your audience against you very quickly. When using humor, you really need to know your audience and understand what they will find humorous. One of the biggest mistakes a speaker can make is to use some form of humor that the audience either doesn’t find funny or finds offensive. Think about how incompetent the character of Michael Scott seems on the television program The Office, in large part because of his ineffective use of humor. We always recommend that you test out humor of any kind on a sample of potential audience members prior to actually using it during a speech.
Now that we’ve warned you about the perils of using humor, let’s talk about how to use humor as an attention-getter. Humor can be incorporated into several of the attention-getting devices mentioned. You could use a humorous anecdote, quotation, or current event. As with other attention-getting devices, you need to make sure your humor is relevant to your topic, as one of the biggest mistakes some novices make when using humor is to add humor that really doesn’t support the overall goal of the speech. So when looking for humorous attention-getters you want to make sure that the humor is nonoffensive to your audiences and relevant to your speech. For example, here’s a humorous quotation from Nicolas Chamfort, a French author during the sixteenth century, “The only thing that stops God from sending another flood is that the first one was useless.” While this quotation could be great for some audiences, other audiences may find this humorous quotation offensive (e.g., religious audiences). The Chamfort quotation could be great for a speech on the ills of modern society, but probably not for a speech on the state of modern religious conflict. You want to make sure that the leap from your attention-getter to your topic isn’t too complicated for your audience, or the attention-getter will backfire.
The tenth device you may consider to start a speech is to refer to a story about yourself that is relevant for your topic. Some of the best speeches are ones that come from personal knowledge and experience. If you are an expert or have firsthand experience related to your topic, sharing this information with the audience is a great way to show that you are credible during your attention-getter. For example, if you had a gastric bypass surgery and you wanted to give an informative speech about the procedure, you could introduce your speech in this way:
In the fall of 2008, I decided that it was time that I took my life into my own hands. After suffering for years with the disease of obesity, I decided to take a leap of faith and get a gastric bypass in an attempt to finally beat the disease.
If you use a personal example, don’t get carried away with the focus on yourself and your own life. Your speech topic is the purpose of the attention-getter, not the other way around. Another pitfall in using a personal example is that it may be too personal for you to maintain your composure. For example, a student once started a speech about her grandmother by stating, “My grandmother died of cancer at 3:30 this morning.” The student then proceeded to cry nonstop for ten minutes. While this is an extreme example, we strongly recommend that you avoid any material that could get you overly choked up while speaking. When speakers have an emotional breakdown during their speech, audience members stop listening to the message and become very uncomfortable.
Reference to Occasion
The last device we mention for starting a speech is to refer directly to the speaking occasion. This attention-getter is only useful if the speech is being delivered for a specific occasion. Many toasts, for example, start with the following statement: “Today we are here to honor X.” In this case, the “X” could be a retirement, a marriage, a graduation, or any number of other special occasions. Because of its specific nature, this attention-getter is the least likely to be used for speeches being delivered for college courses.
- In developing the introduction to your speech, begin by deciding upon a statement to capture the audience’s attention.
- Attention-getters can include references to the audience, quotations, references to current events, historical references, anecdotes, startling statements, questions, humor, personal references, and references to the occasion.
- Make a list of the attention-getting devices you might use to give a speech on the importance of recycling. Which do you think would be most effective? Why?
- You’ve been asked to deliver a speech on the use of advertising in children’s media. Out of the list of ten different possible attention-getting devices discussed in the chapter, how could you use four of them to start your speech?
Aesop (1881). Aesop’s fables. New York, NY: Wm. L. Allison. Retrieved from http://www.litscape.com/author/Aesop/The_Boy_and_the_Filberts.html
Leung, R. (2004, September 5). Porn in the U.S.A.: Steve Kroft reports on a $10 billion industry. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com.
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Whitney, L. (2009, July 13). Don’t text while walking? Girl learns the hard way. CNET News Wireless. Retrieved from http://news.cnet.com/8301-1035_3-10285466-94.html
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