A complete consideration of the use of anecdotes and examples can be found in the section on evidence. All of those rules apply to employing them as introductory devices.
In addition, keep in mind:
Whenever you elect to put content in your speech, you have to ask yourself whether its potential for helping you realize the specific speech purpose is worth the risk of its potential for damaging your presentation. At the basic public speaking level, asking the audience members a question that you want them overtly to answer (e.g. "How many of you . . .?" "Who here has . . . ?" etc.) is almost never worth the risk--and hence should be avoided.
Well, I'll tell you why. Audience members have a universally annoying tendency with regard to being asked questions by a speaker. They tend to answer them! "But," you say, "that is a good thing. It shows that they are paying attention. It engages them emotionally? It makes the speech about them. You said those were good things to do."
Yes, I did. That will teach you to listen to me. You are right. Up to the point of the response, asking a question may do all of those things. But at the moment you get the response, the chemistry is likely to go terribly wrong, because the audience--assuming that you asked them a question becuase you needed the answer--will expect you to incorporate the answer you get into the speech immediately. They expect you to have needed it to go on. That means you have to be spontaneously able to do one of three things:
I doubt that you feel comfortable with any of those options, so why not just eliminate the necessity to employ one of them by not asking the question in the first place!
A rhetorical question is designed to stimulate thought and imagination, rather than an overt response. You employ it to make the audience member mull over a circumstance or search his or her memory.
I used to ask my students the question:
It is obviously not a Yes or No question. It is meant to influence the audience member to dig back into his or her history--to cycle through Christmases past in an attempt to conjure an image that will inform the inquiry.
Using this device, I have still accomplished all of the ends you had hoped to accomplishwith a more directed question like: "How many of you had a close relative die during the Christmas holiday?"--showing that they are paying attention, engaging them emotionally, and making the speech about them--without risking the downside of having the audience members' response blow up in my face.
Then I told the story of the kids in the terminal care ward for which I was soliciting the donation of toys (the point of the speech). As I narrated individual stories, the audience members would compare their scenarios to the one I laid out, and either empathize or feel a little guilty. In either case, their own experience would provide evidence to support my argument. This is the ideal situation for a speaker to be in, and the creative use of a Rhetorical Question facilitates it.
Let's face it, you and I could eat our Funk and Wagnell's for breakfast every day and still never regurgitate anything close to profound enough to make it into Bartlett's. So what is a poor beginning speaker to do?
What you do is borrow eloquence from somebody else--somebody like Lord Chesterfield who has the gift to say what we want to say more eloquently than we could ever hope to. That is the service the use of an opening quotation provides. It allows you to co-opt the eloquence of a gifted communicator and link it to your message, with hope that the ethos of the speaker will at least buy you the time to establish an ethos of your own.
I'm going to take flyer and guess that clear-cut lumbering isn't what Joyce Kilmer had in minds when she wrote the poem. Again, you are using the quote because it clarifies the essence of your intended message. If it doesn't . . . well . . . Dorothy Parker put it best when she said " Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply calisthentics with words."
Sometimes, the best device is no device. Sometimes the relevance of the subject for the audience--the predictability of their interest--is so overt that the best choice for the speaker is just to state as directly as possible what the speech is about. I had a student once who was a Wall Street investment manager. He started his speech by saying:
Having said that, the speaker could be pretty sure that--excepting those who had sworn the vow of poverty (and anyone that spiritual would be polite enough to listen anyway)--everyone would be tuned into the first of his main ideas. Wasting valuable time with quotations or examples would not, in this case, have been a good strategic choice.
If the reason for your speech is tied to some event, occasion, or institution, the audience members can be counted on to bring with them a serious expectation to hear you tie the subject of the speech to that event or institution. So just do it. Why not? There is bound to be a set of ideals or abstractions with which the group identifies; imbuing your content with those abstractions will make the audience members feel as though they have had that impact on you. How can that hurt?
At the same time, don't be constrained by the event or institution. We have all heard enough debilitating commencement addresses to know what happens what the speaker's attendance to expectations of the audience becomes slavish. Consider the occasion a starting point, nothing else.
Bookending is the application of the introductory device to the conclusion. If you open with a story, close with it. The same goes for a quotation, a rhetorical question or any other device.
Bookending is effective, because it provides a nice psychological closure for the audience--a sense that they have come full circle back to the beginning. Imagine that the speech is like a roller coaster. How disconcerting would it be if you got on the roller coaster in one part of the park, then it took you halfway across the lot and dropped you off. Instead, the attendant ushers you on, you sit down, you get banged around for a couple of minutes, then you stumble out just a few feet from where you got in. Then off you go with the rest of your life--wiser for the experience!
The amusement ride is a good analogy to the speech. You grab the audience members as they sidle through life, take them on a ride, then drop them back where you found them. Bookending is a clear signpost that the end is near.
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