Attention-Getting Devices

This resource was prepared by the Business Communications Lab at the Sam M. Walton College of Business
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The beginning of a speech should grab the audience’s attention. Attention getting devices –also known as attention getters –are designed to capture your audience’s attention in the first sentence of your speech. Engage your audience through relatable and relevant content. Try using an anecdote, quote, or statistic to peak your audience’s interest. What can you say in your opening that is relevant and interesting?

For significant events or ceremonies, it may be effective to begin your introduction by describing the audience or occasion. Referencing the audience is only effective when all audience members share a common identity (“as college students, we are all familiar with…”). For special occasions—such as weddings, funerals, or award ceremonies— reminding the audience of the meaning behind the event can bring them together and boost your credibility.

Make sure to select a device that is appropriate for your audience, occasion, and topic.

How do I use an anecdote?
Anecdotes are short stories that illustrate the main points of the speech. An anecdote might be useful to make a connection with the audience, tell a story, or help the audience visualize the main points.

Personal anecdote—This story describes your personal experience with the topic. For example, if you are speaking to college freshmen about time management, you may share some of your own struggles and successes as a freshman.

Historical anecdote—This story describes a historical event. A historical example can refer back to a specific time or event for comparison or inspiration. For example, if your topic is related to the education system, you may refer to historical examples of the founding of certain schools or universities.

Hypothetical example—This device asks your audience to envision a scenario as if it were happening to them. This can be accomplished with a hypothetical situation (“imagine that you are walking through the forest”), or with an anecdote (“imagine that you are Sam, a forest ranger in Alaska”).

How do I use a quote?
Quotes that are humorous, insightful, or emotional can add color to an introduction, and boost the credibility to the speaker. Using the words of someone famous or directly related to the topic of discussion can also be helpful in setting the tone. For example, when discussing the power of persuasion, you may use something like the following:

Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Avoid quotes that are irrelevant, inappropriate, unethical, or misleading, and always remember to cite your sources.

What is a surprising statement?
Surprising statements reveal facts or statistics that would surprise the audience. When used correctly, this device can boost the speaker’s credibility and the audience’s interest in the topic. Make sure to avoid facts or statistics that may not be true, or are published by a questionable source. For example:

According to Magnetics Speaking, a public speaking consultation company, “Fear of public speaking has 10% impairment on your wages & 15% impairment on your promotion” (Khoury, n.d.).

How do I use a question?
You can pose one of the following types of questions to your audience:

Rhetorical question— Rhetorical questions are designed to make your audience consider your argument, and do not elicit a response.

Overt-response question— Overt-response questions are questions designed to elicit a response from your audience.

Polls—These questions poll your audience (“raise your hand if…”).

 Free-response—These questions are less commonly used, but may be appropriate for some contexts. Classroom lectures, for example, frequently use free-response questions as a way to encourage student participation.

Can I use humor?
Humorous introductions can be effective and a great icebreaker, but they are very difficult to execute. When writing a humorous introduction, make sure that it is appropriate for the situation and the audience, relevant to the topic of the presentation, and flows naturally into the rest of the introduction.

“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than delivering the eulogy.” – Jerry Seinfeld

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