Chapter Ten – Introductions and Conclusions

The Importance of an Introduction

While not a hard science, it’s generally recognized that the introduction for a speech should only encompass about 10 to 20 percent of the entire time the speaker will spend speaking. This means that if your speech is meant to be five minutes long, your introduction should be no more than about forty-five seconds. If your speech is to be ten minutes long, then your introduction should be no more than about a minute and a half. Keep in mind, that 10 to 20 percent of your speech can either make your audience interested in what you have to say or cause them to tune out before you’ve really gotten started. Overall, a good introduction should serve five functions. Let’s examine each of these.

Gain Audience Attention and Interest

The first major purpose of an introduction is to gain your audience’s attention and make them interested in what you have to say. This is oftentimes called the hook. One of the biggest mistakes that novice speakers make is to assume that people will naturally listen because the speaker is speaking. While many audiences may be polite and not talk while you’re speaking, actually getting them to listen to what you are saying is a completely different challenge. Let’s face it—we’ve all tuned someone out at some point because we weren’t interested in what they had to say. If you do not get the audience’s attention at the outset, it will only become more difficult to do so as you continue speaking. We’ll talk about some strategies for grabbing an audience’s attention later on in this chapter.


State the Purpose of Your Speech

The second major function of an introduction is to reveal the purpose of your speech to your audience. Have you ever sat through a speech wondering what the basic point was? Have you ever come away after a speech and had no idea what the speaker was talking about? An introduction is important because it forces the speaker to be mindfully aware of explaining the topic of the speech to the audience. If the speaker doesn’t know their topic and cannot convey that topic to the audience, then we’ve got really big problems! Robert Cavett, the founder of the National Speaker’s Association, used the analogy of a preacher giving a sermon when he noted, “When it’s foggy in the pulpit, it’s cloudy in the pews.”

As you previously learned, the specific purpose is the one idea you want your audience to remember when you are finished with your speech. Your specific purpose is the rudder that guides your research, organization, and development of main points. The more clearly focused your purpose is, the easier your task will be in developing your speech. In addition, a clear purpose provides the audience with a single, simple idea to remember even if they daydream during the body of your speech. To develop a specific purpose, you should complete the following sentence: “I want my audience to understand that…” Notice that your specific speech purpose is phrased in terms of expected audience responses, not in terms of your own perspective.


Establish Credibility

One of the most researched areas within the field of communication has been Aristotle’s concept of ethos or credibility. First, and foremost, the concept of credibility must be understood as the perception of your listeners. You may be the most competent, caring, and trustworthy speaker in the world on a given topic, but if your audience does not perceive you as credible, then your expertise and passion will not matter. As public speakers, we need to make sure that we explain to our audiences why we are credible speakers on a given topic.

James C. McCroskey and Jason J. Teven have conducted extensive research on credibility and have determined that an individual’s credibility is composed of three factors: competence, trustworthiness, and goodwill[1]. Competence is the degree to which a speaker is perceived to be knowledgeable or expert in a given subject by an audience member. Some individuals are given expert status because of positions they hold in society. For example, Dr. Regina Benjamin, the US Surgeon General, is expected to be competent in matters related to health and wellness as a result of being the United States’ top physician.

Regina Benjamin


But what if you do not possess a fancy title that lends itself to established competence? You need to explain to the audience why you are competent to speak on your topic. Keep in mind that even well-known speakers are not perceived as universally credible. US Surgeon General Regina Benjamin may be seen as competent on health and wellness issues but may not be seen as a competent speaker on trends in Latin American music or different ways to cook summer squash. Like well-known speakers, you will need to establish your credibility on each topic you address. For example, if you are an undergraduate student and are delivering a speech about the importance of string theory in physics, unless you are a prodigy of some kind, you are probably not a recognized expert on the subject. Conversely, if your number one hobby in life is collecting memorabilia about the Three Stooges, then you may be an expert about the Three Stooges. However, you would need to explain to your audience your passion for collecting Three Stooges memorabilia and how this has made you an expert on the topic.

If, on the other hand, you are not actually a recognized expert on a topic, you need to demonstrate that you have done your homework to become more knowledgeable than your audience about your topic. The easiest way to demonstrate your competence is through the use of appropriate references from leading thinkers and researchers on your topic. When you demonstrate to your audience that you have done your homework, they are more likely to view you as competent.

The second characteristic of credibility, trustworthiness, is a little more complicated than competence, for it ultimately relies on audience perceptions. This factor of credibility noted by McCroskey and Teven, is the degree to which an audience member perceives a speaker as honest. One way to increase the likelihood that a speaker will be perceived as trustworthy is to use reputable sources. If you’re quoting Dr. John Smith, you need to explain who Dr. John Smith is so your audience will see the quotation as being more trustworthy. As speakers we can easily manipulate our sources into appearing more credible than they actually are, which would be unethical. When you are honest about your sources with your audience, they will trust you and your information more so than when you are ambiguous. Many speakers have attempted to lie to an audience because it will serve their own purposes or even because they believe their message is in their audience’s best interest, but lying is one of the fastest ways to turn off an audience and get them to distrust both the speaker and the message. Not only is lying highly unethical, but if you are caught lying, your audience will deem you untrustworthy and perceive everything you are saying as untrustworthy. For example, in the summer of 2009, many Democratic members of Congress attempted to hold public town-hall meetings about health care. For a range of reasons, many of the people who attended these town-hall meetings refused to let their elected officials actually speak because the audiences were convinced that the Congressmen and Congresswomen were lying.

In these situations, where a speaker is in front of a very hostile audience, there is little a speaker can do to reestablish that sense of trustworthiness. These public town-hall meetings became screaming matches between the riled-up audiences and the congressional representatives. Some police departments actually ended up having to escort the representatives from the buildings because they feared for their safety. Check out this video from to see what some of these events actually looked like: Hostile Town Hall Meeting. We hope that you will not be in physical danger when you speak to your classmates or in other settings, but these incidents serve to underscore how important speaker trustworthiness is across speaking contexts.

Goodwill is the final factor of credibility noted by McCroskey and Teven. Goodwill refers to the degree to which an audience member perceives a speaker as caring about the audience member. As noted by Wrench, McCroskey, and Richmond, “If a receiver does not believe that a source has the best intentions in mind for the receiver, the receiver will not see the source as credible. Simply put, we are going to listen to people who we think truly care for us and are looking out for our welfare”[3]. As a speaker, then, you need to establish that your information is being presented because you care about your audience and are not just trying to manipulate them. We should note that research has indicated that goodwill is the most important factor of credibility. This means that if an audience believes that a speaker truly cares about the audience’s best interests, the audience may overlook some competence and trust issues. One way to show that you have your audience’s best interests in mind is to acknowledge disagreement from the start:

Today I’m going to talk about why I believe we should enforce stricter immigration laws in the United States. I realize that many of you will disagree with me on this topic. I used to believe that open immigration was necessary for the United States to survive and thrive, but after researching this topic, I’ve changed my mind. While I may not change all of your minds today, I do ask that you listen with an open mind, set your personal feelings on this topic aside, and judge my arguments on their merits.


While clearly not all audience members will be open or receptive to opening their minds and listening to your arguments, by establishing that there is known disagreement, you are telling the audience that you understand their possible views and are not trying to attack their intellect or their opinions.


Provide Reasons to Listen

The fourth major function of an introduction is to establish a connection between the speaker and the audience, often described as relating to your audience. We call this the “why should I care?” part of your speech because it tells your audience why the topic is directly important to them. One of the most effective means of establishing a connection with your audience is to provide them with reasons why they should listen to your speech. The idea of establishing a connection is an extension of the notion of caring/goodwill. In the chapter on Speech Delivery, we’ll spend a lot more time talking about how you can establish a good relationship with your audience. However, this relationship starts the moment you step to the front of the room to start speaking.

People in today’s world are very busy, and they do not like their time wasted. Nothing is worse than having to sit through a speech that has nothing to do with you. Imagine sitting through a speech about a new software package you don’t own and you will never hear of again. How would you react to the speaker? Most of us would be pretty annoyed at having had our time wasted in this way. Obviously, this particular speaker didn’t do a great job of analyzing her or his audience if the audience isn’t going to use the software package—but even when speaking on a topic that is highly relevant to the audience, speakers often totally forget to explain how and why it is important.

Instead of assuming the audience will make their own connections to your material, you should explicitly state how your information might be useful to your audience. Tell them directly how they might use your information themselves. It is not enough for you alone to be interested in your topic! You need to build a bridge to the audience by explicitly connecting your topic to their possible needs.


Stack of books. Photo by Min An.


Preview Main Ideas

The last major function of an introduction is to preview the main ideas that your speech will discuss. A preview establishes the direction your speech will take. In the most basic speech format, speakers generally have three to five major points they plan on making. During the preview, a speaker outlines what these points will be, which demonstrates to the audience that the speaker is organized.

Having a solid preview of the information contained within one’s speech and then following that preview will definitely help a speaker’s credibility. It also helps your audience keep track of where you are if they momentarily daydream or get distracted.

The preview may also be called your thesis statement, that is, a summary of your main points. The preview or thesis statement explicitly states and summarizes your main points, to ensure your audience knows what to expect. A strong, clear thesis statement is valuable within an introduction because it lays out the basic goal of the entire speech. We strongly believe that it is worthwhile to invest some time in framing and writing a good thesis statement because it helps your audience by letting them know “in a nutshell” what you are going to talk about.


Attention-Getting Strategies

Now that we have discussed the five basic functions of the introduction, let’s discuss potential attention-getting strategies. This is not an exhaustive list, and many of these attention getters can be combined or adapted to fit the needs of the speaker, the occasion and the audience. Regardless of the specific strategy used for the introduction, all introductions still need to meet the basic functions of an introduction.

You will get good attention and people will be more inclined to listen to you if you can make a statement whereby their response is… “No kidding!” – Gael Boardman

Tell a Story

Humans love stories. In all cultures, stories are used to communicate and share values, traditions and knowledge. Rhetorician Walter Fisher[4] argues that human beings are best understood as homo narrans, as people who tell stories. As an introductory device, stories (and anecdotes and illustrations) are very effective attention getters.

First, stories have a built-in structure that everyone recognizes and expects. Stories have a beginning, middle and end, and this built-in structure allows the audience and the speaker to immediately share this experience.

Secondly, because this built-in structure, stories as attention getters lend themselves readily to a well- structured speech. You as speaker can start the story, get right to the climax, and then stop. You have the attention of the audience; you have shared experiences with them; and now you also have the conclusion of the speech all set to go—the end of the story.

Speakers who talk about what life has taught them never fail to keep the attention of their listeners. – Dale Carnegie

Refer to the Occasion

You are presenting this speech for a reason. The audience is present at this speech for a reason. These reasons can provide you with an effective attention getter. Referring to the occasion is often used as an introduction to tribute speeches, toasts, dedication ceremonies and historical events. Speech scholar Lloyd Bitzer[5] argues that all speeches are made at least in part in response to specific occasions, so referring to the occasion seems a good idea.

Bono, lead singer of the rock group U2 and an activist for a number of humanitarian issues, addressed the 54th annual National Prayer Breakfast, and started his speech with these words:

Well, thank you. Thank you, Mr. President, First Lady, King Abdullah of Jordan, Norm [Coleman], distinguished guests. Please join me in praying that I don’t say something we’ll all regret.[6]

Bono speaking at National Prayer Breakfast

“National Prayer Breakfast” by Paul Morse. Public domain.

Refer to Recent or Historical Events

In addition to referring to the occasion, another effective attention- getting device is to refer to current events or to historical events. This style of reference again helps to create a shared experience for the speaker and the audience, as the speaker reminds all present that they have these events in common. Additionally, referring to current or historical events can also help establish goodwill and personal credibility by demonstrating that the speaker is aware of the relationship between this particular speech and what is going on in the world at that time, or what has occurred in the past.


Abraham Lincoln


Abraham Lincoln (1863), in one of the most well-known speeches in American history, refers both to historical events and current events in the beginning of the Gettysburg Address:

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.





“Abraham Lincoln” by Alexander Gardner. Public domain.

Refer to Previous Speeches

Most of you reading this material are doing so because you are in a public speaking or introductory communication class of some kind. And that means that most of you will be presenting your speeches right after someone else has presented. Even if you are not in a classroom situation, many other speaking situations (such as presenting at a city council or other government meeting or taking part in a forum or lecture series) result in speakers presenting right after another person has spoken.

In these situations, speakers before you may have already addressed some of the information you were planning to discuss, or perhaps have given a speech on the same topic you are now planning to address. By referring to the previous speeches, you enhance your credibility by showing your knowledge of the previous speech, and you have the opportunity to either compare or contrast your speech to the previous speeches (you could also demonstrate your listening skills).

Edward (Ted) Kennedy, at the 1980 Democratic National Convention, began his speech with a short tribute and acknowledgement to the previous speaker, member of Congress Barbara Mikulski:

Thanks very much, Barbara Mikulski, for your very eloquent, your eloquent introduction. Distinguished legislator, great spokeswoman for economic democracy and social justice in this country, I thank you for your eloquent introduction.


Ted Kennedy

“Ted Kennedy, Senator from Massachusetts” by United States Senate. Public domain.

Refer to Personal Interest

One of the key considerations in choosing an appropriate topic for your speech is that you have a personal interest in that topic. An effective attention getter then, can be your description of that personal interest. By noting your personal interest, you will demonstrate your credibility by showing your knowledge and experience with this topic, and because you have a personal interest, you are more likely to present this information in a lively and clear manner—again, enhancing your credibility. Referring to your personal interest in this topic in the introduction also helps you set the stage for additional anecdotes or examples from your personal experience later in the speech.

In speaking at the 1992 Democratic National Convention, Elizabeth Glaser began her speech by acknowledging her very personal interest in the topic:

I’m Elizabeth Glaser. Eleven years ago, while giving birth to my first child, I hemorrhaged and was transfused with seven pints of blood. Four years later, I found out that I had been infected with the AIDS virus and had unknowingly passed it to my daughter, Ariel, through my breast milk, and my son, Jake, in utero.[7]

Use Startling Statistics


Startling statistics startle an audience and catch its attention and encourage that audience to listen further as you present the context of the surprising statistic. Long-time radio announcer Paul Harvey is well known for the catch phrase “And now, the rest of the story.” The same function should be at work here. When you startle the audience, you set them up to want to hear the “rest of the story.”

Be careful, though. Use of startling statistics requires that you do a number of things. First, make sure the statistic is accurate. Second, make sure the statistic is relevant to the topic of the speech. Startling an audience with an irrelevant statistic diminishes the speech and decreases your credibility. Third, make sure you then present “the rest of the story.” You need to place this startling statistic in the context of your speech so that everything fits together.

One speaker used an effective startling statistic to help introduce a speech on the dangers of heart disease:

According to the Center for Disease Control, in the United States 26.6 million adults have heart disease. This would be about 12% of adults, or three people in this room.

Use an Analogy

Analogies compare something that your audience knows and understands with something new and different. For your speech, then, you can use an analogy to show a connection between your speech topic (something new and different for the audience) and something that is known by your audience.


Oliver Wendell Holmes

“Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes” by National Photo Company. Public domain.

One very common (and often misquoted) analogy comes from the 1919 Supreme Court case of Schenck v United States. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes used this analogy to support his reasoning that some forms of expression can be suppressed because they present a “clear and present danger.” Holmes noted that “[t]he most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”[8]

Use a Quotation

Using a quotation from a well-known figure or using a quotation from a lesser-known figure if the quotation is particularly suitable for your speech topic, is a common attention-getting technique. When you quote that well-known figure, you are in a sense, borrowing some of that person’s credibility for your speech, enhancing your credibility with the audience. Even when you use a less than well-known figure, the quotation can be effective if it nicely sets up
your speech topic and is something to which your audience can relate.

Be careful with quotations, however. First, just using the quotation is not sufficient. You need to place the quotation in the context of your speech (as well as meet the other required functions of an introduction, of course). Second, it is easy to fall into a bad (and somewhat lazy) habit of simply finding a quotation and using it to start every speech. Third, simply using a quotation is no guarantee that your audience will find that quotation interesting or apt for the speech and may also find the author of the quotation to be lacking in credibility—or your audience may simply not like the author of the quotation. Finally, beware of overly- long quotations (three or more sentences): Remember, this is just part of the introduction, not a main point of the speech.


Ronald Reagan saluting by a plane

“Reagan farewell salute” by White House Photographic Office. Public domain.

In his farewell address, former President Ronald Reagan (1989) utilized a very short quotation to emphasize his feelings upon leaving office.

People ask how I feel about leaving. And the fact is, “parting is such sweet sorrow.” The sweet part is California and the ranch and freedom. The sorrow — the goodbyes, of course, and leaving this beautiful place.


Ask a Question

Using rhetorical questions in speeches is a great way to keep the audience involved. Don’t you think those kinds of questions would keep your attention? – Bo Bennett


The use of questions can be a very effective way to get attention, whether those questions are rhetorical in nature, and are only meant to be considered and pondered by the audience or are meant to be answered by the audience (generally a good technique to get audience involvement and interest).

Rhetorical questions are designed to allow you as speaker to get the audience to think about your topic without actually speaking the answer to the question. Rhetorical questions allow you as speaker to maintain the most control over a speech situation and allow you to guard against an inappropriate or even offensive response.

Using questions that ask for real responses, however, has additional benefits, if a speaker feels comfortable with the audience, and is able to handle some impromptu situations. Getting the audience to physically and verbally involve themselves in your topic guarantees that they’re paying attention. Using questions that lead to positive answers can also enhance your connection to and credibility with the audience.

Starting a speech with a question whether rhetorical or actual does require thought and practice on your part. You need to carefully consider the question and possible answers. Remember—even if you think the question is rhetorical, your audience may not know this and may answer the question. You also need to carefully deliver the question. Too often, speakers will use a question as an introduction—but then give the audience no time to either think about the answer or answer the question. You need to use timing and pause when starting with a question. You also need to be careful to use eye contact in asking questions, since you are above all asking for audience involvement, and your eye contact requests that involvement.

It is not enough for me to ask questions; I want to know how to answer the one question that seems to encompass everything I face: What am I here for? – Abraham Joshua Heschel

In 1992, Ross Perot selected a little-known retired military figure, Admiral James Stockdale, as his Vice-Presidential running mate. In the fall debates, Stockdale began his opening statement with two questions: “Who am I? Why am I here?” (Stockdale, 1992). The questions received applause and also laughter, though the later reaction to these questions was mixed at best. Some saw this as confusion on the part of Stockdale.[9] Stockdale considered these two questions to illustrate his difference from the other two “mainstream” candidates, Al Gore and then Vice President Dan Quayle. Traditional politicians, Gore and Quayle were readily recognized as compared to Stockdale.

Audience laughing.

“Audience enjoy Stallman’s jokes” by Wikimania2009 and Damiu00e1n Buonamico. CC-BY.


Use Humor

The use of humor in an introduction can be one of the most effective types of introductions—if done well. Humor can create a connection between the speaker and audience, can get an audience relaxed and in a receptive frame of mind, and can allow an audience to perceive the speaker (and the topic) in a positive light.

Humor done badly can destroy the speech and ruin a speaker’s credibility.

So first, a word of warning: None of us (those reading this, those teaching this class, and those writing this) are as funny as we think we are. If we were that funny, we would be making our living that way. Humor is hard. Humor can backfire. Humor is to a large extent situation bound. Most likely, there will be a number of members of your audience who do not use English as a first language (there are plenty of people reading this who are English as a Second Language learners). Much humor requires a native understanding of English. Most likely, there will be a number of people in your audience who do not share your cultural upbringing—and humor is often culture-bound. Be careful with humor.

In general, there is basically only one safe and suitable style of humor: light and subtle self-deprecation. In other words, you as speaker are the only really safe subject for humor.


Ann Richards

“Ann Richards” by Kenneth C. Zirkel. CC-BY-SA.

Using humor to tell stories about other people, other groups, and even other situations, may work—but it is just as likely to offend those people, members of those groups, and people in that situation. Using self-deprecating humor will not offend others, but unless you can do this with a light and subtle touch, you may be harming your credibility rather than creating a connection between yourself and the audience.

Now, with all these warnings, you may want to stay far away from humor as an introduction. Humor can work, however.

Ann Richards, at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, used humor in the introduction to her Keynote Address. Knowing the audience, Richards was able to use partisan humor to establish a connection to the audience and score points against the political opposition.

I’m delighted to be here with you this evening, because after listening to George Bush all these years, I figured you needed to know what a real Texas accent sounds like.




Steps of a Conclusion

Old concrete steps


Signal the Ending

Letting your audience know that the conclusion is coming is the first step in a powerful conclusion. When we show the audience we have come to the end, we ensure that our speech end is intentional, and not abrupt. Suppose your purpose was, “I will analyze Barack Obama’s use of lyricism in his July 2008 speech, ‘A World That Stands as One.’” You could start your conclusion with “In the past few minutes, I have analyzed Barack Obama’s use of lyricism in his July 2008 speech, ‘A World That Stands as One.’” Notice the shift in tense: the statement has gone from the future tense (this is what I will speak about) to the past tense (this is what I have spoken about). Not only does this remind them of the major purpose or goal of your speech, but it ushers in a memorable conclusion.

You may have used the line “In Conclusion” as a signal when writing an essay for your English class. While certainly a signal, this is a cliché phrase that you may want to avoid, using more creative means to signal the end.

Review of Main Points

Once you have stated the main idea of your speech, the second step in a powerful conclusion is to review the main points from your speech. One of the biggest differences between written and oral communication is the necessity of repetition in oral communication. When we preview our main points in the introduction, effectively discuss and make transitions to our main points during the body of the speech, and finally, review the main points in the conclusion, we increase the likelihood that the audience will retain our main points after the speech is over.

In the introduction of a speech, we deliver a preview of our main body points, and in the conclusion, we deliver a review. Let’s look at a sample preview:

In order to understand the field of gender and communication, I will first differentiate between the terms biological sex and gender. I will then explain the history of gender research in communication. Lastly, I will examine a series of important findings related to gender and communication.

In this preview, we have three clear main points. Let’s see how we can review them at the conclusion of our speech:

Today, we have differentiated between the terms biological sex and gender, examined the history of gender research in communication, and analyzed a series of research findings on the topic.

In the past few minutes, I have explained the difference between the terms “biological sex” and “gender,” discussed the rise of gender research in the field of communication, and examined a series of groundbreaking studies in the field.


Notice that both of these conclusions review the main points originally set forth. Both variations are equally effective reviews of the main points, but you might like the linguistic turn of one over the other. Remember, while there is a lot of science to help us understand public speaking, there’s also a lot of art as well, so you are always encouraged to choose the wording that you think will be most effective for your audience.


Concluding Devices

The final part of a powerful conclusion is the concluding device. A concluding device is essentially the final thought you want your audience members to have when you stop speaking. It also provides a definitive sense of closure to your speech. Imagine the summer Olympics and you’re watching your favorite gymnast.  You could make the analogy between a gymnast’s dismount and the concluding device in a speech. Just as a gymnast dismounting the parallel bars or balance beam wants to stick the landing and avoid taking two or three steps, a speaker wants to “stick” the ending of the presentation by ending with a concluding device instead of with, “Well, umm, I guess I’m done.” Miller observed that speakers tend to use one of ten concluding devices when ending a speech (Miller, 1946). The rest of this section will examine these ten concluding devices.

Conclude with a Challenge

The first way that Miller found that some speakers end their speeches is with a challenge. A challenge is a call to engage in some kind of activity that requires a contest or special effort. In a speech on the necessity of fund-raising, a speaker could conclude by challenging the audience to raise 10 percent more than their original projections. In a speech on eating more vegetables, you could challenge your audience to increase their current intake of vegetables by two portions daily. In both of these challenges, audience members are being asked to go out of their way to do something different that involves effort on their part.


Conclude with a Quotation

A second way you can conclude a speech is by reciting a quotation relevant to the speech topic. When using a quotation, you need to think about whether your goal is to end on a persuasive note or an informative note. Some quotations will have a clear call to action, while other quotations summarize or provoke thought. For example, let’s say you are delivering an informative speech about dissident writers in the former Soviet Union. You could end by citing this quotation from Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “A great writer is, so to speak, a second government in his country. And for that reason, no regime has ever loved great writers” (Solzhenitsyn, 1964). Notice that this quotation underscores the idea of writers as dissidents, but it doesn’t ask listeners to put forth effort to engage in any specific thought process or behavior. If, on the other hand, you were delivering a persuasive speech urging your audience to participate in a very risky political demonstration, you might use this quotation from Martin Luther King Jr.: “If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live” (King, 1963). In this case, the quotation leaves the audience with the message that great risks are worth taking, that they make our lives worthwhile, and that the right thing to do is to go ahead and take that great risk.


Conclude with a Summary

When speakers end with a summary, they are simply elongating the review of the main points. While this may not be the most exciting concluding device, it can be useful for information that was highly technical or complex or for speeches lasting longer than thirty minutes. Typically, for short speeches (like those in your class), this summary device should be avoided.


Conclude by Visualizing the Future

The purpose of a conclusion that refers to the future is to help your audience imagine the future you believe can occur. If you are giving a speech on the development of video games for learning, you could conclude by depicting the classroom of the future where video games are perceived as true learning tools and how those tools could be utilized. More often, speakers use visualization of the future to depict how society would be, or how individual listeners’ lives would be different, if the speaker’s persuasive attempt worked. For example, if a speaker proposes that a solution to illiteracy is hiring more reading specialists in public schools, the speaker could ask the audience to imagine a world without illiteracy. In this use of visualization, the goal is to persuade people to adopt the speaker’s point of view. By showing that the speaker’s vision of the future is a positive one, the conclusion should help to persuade the audience to help create this future.

Man in the mirror. Photo by Photo by Ketut Subiyanto.

Conclude with an Appeal for Action

Probably the most common persuasive concluding device is the appeal for action or the call to action. In essence, the appeal for action occurs when a speaker asks the audience to engage in a specific behavior or change in thinking. When a speaker concludes by asking the audience “to do” or “to think” in a specific manner, the speaker wants to see an actual change. Whether the speaker appeals for people to eat more fruit, buy a car, vote for a candidate, oppose the death penalty, or sing more in the shower, the speaker is asking the audience to engage in action.

One specific type of appeal for action is the immediate call to action. Whereas some appeals ask for people to engage in behavior in the future, the immediate call to action asks people to engage in behavior right now. If a speaker wants to see a new traffic light placed at a dangerous intersection, they may conclude by asking all the audience members to sign a digital petition right then and there, using a computer the speaker has made available ( Here are some more examples of immediate calls to action:

  • In a speech on eating more vegetables, pass out raw veggies and dip at the conclusion of the speech.
  • In a speech on petitioning a lawmaker for a new law, provide audience members with a prewritten e-mail they can send to the lawmaker.
  • In a speech on the importance of using hand sanitizer, hand out little bottles of hand sanitizer and show audience members how to correctly apply the sanitizer.
  • In a speech asking for donations for a charity, send a box around the room asking for donations.

These are just a handful of different examples we’ve actually seen students use in our classrooms to elicit an immediate change in behavior. These immediate calls to action may not lead to long-term change, but they can be very effective at increasing the likelihood that an audience will change behavior in the short term.


Advocate. Photo by Lara Jameson.

Conclude by Inspiration

By definition, the word inspire means to affect or arouse someone. Both affect and arouse have strong emotional connotations. The ultimate goal of an inspiration concluding device is similar to an “appeal for action” but the ultimate goal is more lofty or ambiguous; the goal is to stir someone’s emotions in a specific manner. Maybe a speaker is giving an informative speech on the prevalence of domestic violence in our society today. That speaker could end the speech by reading Paulette Kelly’s powerful poem “I Got Flowers Today.” “I Got Flowers Today” is a poem that evokes strong emotions because it’s about an abuse victim who received flowers from her abuser every time she was victimized. The poem ends by saying, “I got flowers today… / Today was a special day—it was the day of my funeral / Last night he killed me” (Kelly, 1994).


Conclude with Advice

The next concluding device is one that should be used primarily by speakers who are recognized as expert authorities on a given subject. Advice is essentially a speaker’s opinion about what should or should not be done. The problem with opinions is that everyone has one-, and one-person’s opinion is not necessarily any more correct than another’s. There needs to be a really good reason your opinion—and therefore your advice—should matter to your audience. If, for example, you are an expert in nuclear physics, you might conclude a speech on energy by giving advice about the benefits of nuclear energy.


Conclude by Proposing a Solution

Another way a speaker can conclude a speech powerfully is to offer a solution to the problem discussed within a speech. For example, perhaps a speaker has been discussing the problems associated with the disappearance of art education in the United States. The speaker could then propose a solution of creating more community-based art experiences for school children as a way to fill this gap. Although this can be an effective conclusion, a speaker must reflect upon whether the solution should be discussed in more depth as a stand-alone main point within the body of the speech, so that audience concerns about the proposed solution may be addressed.


Conclude with a Question

Another way you can end a speech is to ask a rhetorical question that forces the audience to ponder an idea. Maybe you are giving a speech on the importance of the environment, so you end the speech by saying, “Think about your children’s future. What kind of world do you want them raised in? A world that is clean, vibrant, and beautiful—or one that is filled with smog, pollution, filth, and disease?” Notice that you aren’t actually asking the audience to verbally or nonverbally answer the question; the goal of this question is to force the audience into thinking about what kind of world they want for their children.


Conclude with a Reference to Audience

The last concluding device discussed by Miller (1946) was a reference to one’s audience. This concluding device is when a speaker attempts to answer the basic audience question, “What’s in it for me?” The goal of this concluding device is to spell out the direct benefits a behavior or thought change has for audience members. For example, a speaker talking about stress reduction techniques could conclude by clearly listing all the physical health benefits stress reduction offers (e.g., improved reflexes, improved immune system, improved hearing, reduction in blood pressure). In this case, the speaker is clearly spelling out why audience members should care—what’s in it for them!



Informative versus Persuasive Conclusions

As you read through the possible ways to conclude a speech, hopefully you noticed that some of the methods are more appropriate for persuasive speeches and others are more appropriate for informative speeches. To help you choose appropriate conclusions for informative, persuasive, or entertaining speeches, we’ve created a table — Table 11.1 — to help you quickly identify appropriate concluding devices. Additionally, you may have noticed the concluding devices were similar to the introductory devices. This is not a mistake! Ending your speech in the same way you began can bring uniformity to your speech, making it feel “full circle.”

Table 10.1 Your Speech Purpose and Concluding Devices

Types of Concluding Devices General Purposes of Speeches
Informative Persuasive
Challenge x
Quotation x x
Summary x x
Visualizing the Future x x
Appeal x
Inspirational x x
Advice x
Proposal of Solution x
Question x x
Reference to Audience x


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  11. King, M. L. (1963, June 23). Speech in Detroit. Cited in Bartlett, J., & Kaplan, J. (Eds.), Bartlett’s familiar quotations (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co., p. 760.
  12. Miller, E. (1946). Speech introductions and conclusions. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 32, 181–183.
  13. Solzhenitsyn, A. (1964). The first circle. New York: Harper & Row. Cited in Bartlett, J., & Kaplan, J. (Eds.), Bartlett’s familiar quotations (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co., p. 746.





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