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The importance of introductions
By Meg O’Sullivan
Winner, 1999 World Universities Debating Championships
In amongst definitions, rebuttal, examples and summaries, the importance of the introduction sometimes gets lost. Often we are worried about making sure we fulfil our speaker duties, and we forget to make our introductions interesting and relevant.
What you want to do in an introduction is grab the attention of the audience and adjudicator. You want them to sit up straight in their seats and ask their neighbor “Who is this debater?”.
Furthermore, you want to bring the debate squarely back into your ground. Remember that your opposition has just had 5 or 10 solid minutes of argument to convince the audience that they are correct. A lot of audience members will be swayed by your opposition’s arguments, some might already be convinced. In your introduction, you need to give across the impression that no right minded person could even contemplate that your opposition’s arguments were compelling.
Overall, introductions are about establishing your credibility as a speaker. If you make a good impression at the start of your speech, this will last to the end. If you fumble your introduction, or if its technical or boring, you will lose the audience’s attention and it will be an uphill battle to regain credibility.
It is also important to have a good introduction because adjudicators will often get a strong impression of your manner within the first few minutes of your speech. The introduction sets the tone for your speech, and if you don’t start off confidently, it is difficult to score well for manner.
In order to get these good manner marks, don’t be afraid to speak slowly in your introduction. Often the more slowly and quietly you speak, the more compelling you appear. Slow, quiet speaking can serve well to emphasis important points, and given that the most important points should always come first, this is a good way to stress the crucial arguments.
Another benefit of slow, quiet, introductions is that they often contrast with the yelling style of the previous speaker. If your previous speaker has been haranguing the audience, there is no better way to establish your reasonableness than by speaking clearly and slowly to the audience.
Here are a few tips for introductions. Remember that these tips will not work for every debate. Be flexible and use your judgement as to what is required in any particular debate.