THE introduction is a crucial part of any talk. If you really arouse the interest of your audience, they will be more inclined to listen intently to what follows. In the field ministry, if your introduction fails to arouse interest, you may not be able to continue your presentation. When you give a talk at the Kingdom Hall, the audience will not walk out on you, but individuals may start thinking about other things if you have not captured their interest.
When preparing your introduction, have in mind the following objectives: (1) getting the attention of your audience, (2) clearly identifying your subject, and (3) showing why the subject is important to your audience. In some instances, these three objectives may be attained almost simultaneously. At times, however, they may be given attention separately, and the order may vary.
How to Get the Attention of Your Audience. The fact that people have gathered to hear a discourse does not mean that they are ready to give the subject their undivided attention. Why not? Their lives are filled with many things that clamor for their attention. They may be concerned about a problem at home or another anxiety of life. The challenge facing you as the speaker is to capture and hold the attention of the audience. There is more than one way that you can do it.
One of the most famous discourses ever given was the Sermon on the Mount. How did it begin? According to Luke’s account, Jesus said: “Happy are you poor, . . . happy are you who hunger now, . . . happy are you who weep now, . . . happy are you whenever men hate you.” (Luke 6:20-22) Why did that arouse interest? In a few words, Jesus acknowledged some of the serious problems that his hearers had to face. Then, instead of discussing the problems at length, he showed that people who had such problems could still be happy, and he did it in a way that made his listeners want to hear more.
Questions can be used effectively to arouse interest, but they must be of the right sort. If your questions indicate that you are simply going to talk about things that the audience has heard before, interest may quickly wane. Do not ask questions that embarrass your audience or that put them in a bad light. Rather, endeavor to phrase your questions in a manner that will stimulate thinking. Pause briefly after each question so that your listeners have time to formulate a mental answer. When they feel that they are engaging in a mental dialogue with you, you have their attention.
Use of a real-life experience is another good way to capture attention. But simply telling a story may defeat your purpose if the experience is embarrassing to someone in your audience. If your story is remembered but the instruction that goes with it is forgotten, you have missed the mark. When an experience is used in the introduction, it should lay the groundwork for some significant aspect of the body of your talk. While some details may be needed in order to make the narrative live, be careful not to make experiences needlessly long.
Some speakers lead with a recent news item, a quotation from a local newspaper, or a statement by a recognized authority. These too can be effective if they really fit the subject and are appropriate for the audience.
If your talk is part of a symposium or a portion of a Service Meeting, then it is usually best to make your introduction brief and to the point. If you are giving a public talk, hold carefully to the time allotted for the introductory section. It is the body of the talk that will convey the information that is of greatest value to your audience.
On occasion you may find yourself speaking before an audience that is skeptical or even hostile. How might you get them to give you their attention? Stephen, an early Christian described as being “full of spirit and wisdom,” was taken by force before the Jewish Sanhedrin. There he gave an eloquent defense of Christianity. How did he begin? In a respectful manner and with a reference to something mutually accepted. “Men, brothers and fathers, hear. The God of glory appeared to our forefather Abraham.” (Acts 6:3; 7:2) On the Areopagus in Athens, the apostle Paul adapted his introduction to a very different audience, saying: “Men of Athens, I behold that in all things you seem to be more given to the fear of the deities than others are.” (Acts 17:22) As a result of effective introductions, both audiences were willing to hear more.
When you are in the field service, you also need to get people’s attention. If your visit is not prearranged, the householder may be busy with other matters. In some parts of the world, uninvited visitors are expected to get to the point quickly. Elsewhere, custom requires that certain formalities be observed before you state the reason for your call.—Luke 10:5.
In either case, genuine friendliness can help to create an atmosphere that is conducive to having a conversation. It is often beneficial to begin with something that directly relates to what is on the person’s mind. How can you determine what to use? Well, when you approached the person, was he engaging in some activity? Perhaps he is farming, caring for the grounds around his house, repairing an automobile, cooking, doing laundry, or caring for children. Was he looking at something—a newspaper or an activity in the street? Do his surroundings reflect special interest in fishing, sports, music, travel, computers, or something else? People are often concerned about what they have recently heard on the radio or seen on television. A question or a brief comment about any of such matters may lead to a friendly conversation.
The occasion when Jesus spoke with a Samaritan woman at a well near Sychar is an outstanding example of how to start a conversation with a view to giving a witness.—John 4:5-26.
You need to prepare your introduction carefully, especially if your congregation works its territory frequently. Otherwise, you may not be able to give a witness.
Identify Your Subject. In the Christian congregation, a chairman or someone preceding you on the program will usually announce the title of your talk and introduce you. However, it can be beneficial for you to remind your audience of your subject during your introductory remarks. This can be, but does not have to be, a formal statement of the theme. In any event, the theme should gradually unfold as the talk progresses. In some way in the introduction, you should focus attention on your subject.
When sending out his disciples to preach, Jesus clearly identified the message that they were to deliver. “As you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.’” (Matt. 10:7) Regarding our day, Jesus said: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached.” (Matt. 24:14) We are urged to “preach the word,” that is, to stick to the Bible when witnessing. (2 Tim. 4:2) Before opening the Bible or directing attention to the Kingdom, though, it is often necessary to identify some matter that is of current concern. You might comment on crime, unemployment, injustice, war, how to help young people, sickness, or death. But do not dwell at length on negative matters; your message is a positive one. Endeavor to direct the conversation to God’s Word and the Kingdom hope.
Show Why the Subject Is Important to Your Audience. If you will be speaking in the congregation, you can be reasonably sure that those in your audience will in a general way be interested in what you discuss. But will they listen as a person does when he is learning something that definitely involves him? Will they pay attention because they realize that what they are hearing fits their situation in life and because you are stirring in them a desire to do something about it? That will be true only if you considered your audience carefully—their circumstances, their concerns, their attitudes—when preparing your talk. If you did, then include in your introduction something that indicates that.
Whether you are speaking from the platform or witnessing to an individual, one of the best ways to arouse interest in a subject is to get your audience involved. Show how their problems, their needs, or the questions that are on their minds are related to the subject that you are discussing. If you make clear that you are going to go beyond generalities and come to grips with specific aspects of the matter, they will listen even more intently. To do that, you must prepare well.
The Way You Present It. What you say in your introduction is of primary importance, but how you say it can also arouse interest. For this reason your preparation ought to involve not only what you are going to say but also how you are going to say it.
Word choice is important in accomplishing your objective, so you might find it advantageous to prepare the first two or three sentences quite carefully. Short, simple sentences are usually best. For a talk in the congregation, you may want to write them out in your notes, or you may choose to memorize them so that your opening words will carry all the impact they deserve. Delivering an effective introduction in an unhurried manner can help you to gain the composure needed to give the rest of your talk.
When to Prepare It. Opinions vary on this subject. Some experienced speakers believe that preparation of a talk should begin with the introduction. Others who have studied public speaking are of the opinion that the introduction should be prepared after the body has been completed.
You certainly need to know what your subject is and what main points you plan to develop before you can work out the details of a suitable introduction. But what if you are preparing your talk from a published outline? After reading the outline, if you have an idea for the introduction, there is certainly no harm in writing it down. Remember, too, that for your introduction to be effective, you must take into consideration your audience as well as the material in the outline.