Department of Communication



Introducing and Concluding Messages in Rhetorical Communication

Chapter 14


The body of the message should be constructed prior to introductions and conclusions. It is very hard to know what to introduce before the message is written. The introduction serves to acquaint the audience with what is to come in the body of the message. Each serves a function or purpose in the message; they are not just items tacked on the opening and closing of a speech or paper. When done well, they can and will enhance the overall effectiveness of the message and sometimes the speaker’s ethos as well.


There are three primary functions of introductions: to arouse audience attention; to enhance the ethos of the source; and to preview or identify the body or central theme of the message.

Arouse attention—if the audience is not motivated to listen initially, they may never pay attention after that.

Enhance source ethos—the audience needs to sense that common goodwill toward them; a sense of trustworthiness; a feeling that the source is competent to communicate on this subject.

To preview the basic theme or material to follow—not always done and there are time when it might not be wise. There is more to come, so don’t leave your seat!

The Problem of Forewarning (to preview or not to preview….that is the question)—

For persuasive messages the risks are much greater on the issue of previewing. The Kiesler and Kiesler study found that telling the audience you were going to attempt to persuade them in the introduction hurt the chances of that actually happening. In some cases, audiences take the opposite position because of the preview. There are times, even in persuasive messages, that a preview is wise. A preview makes your goal clearer and if the audience is predisposed in your favor from the start, it will likely help your effort. If the audience knows why you are there, then a preview is probably not needed. It is most logical if your message is one of information. To omit a preview in an informative message would be unwise and likely only serve to undercut your efforts. In general, if the audience is unaware of your persuasive intent, then do not preview your message. If they are already aware or will agree with your position, then provide a preview. And of course, do so for informative messages.

Identification of Audience with Message—

Should the source attempt to identify the audience with the message? Usually this is smart to do, but not always. If the audience perceives the source is aiming an appeal directly at them via a persuasive effort, they are less likely to comply with the source’s wishes. In that case a less direct approach would be wiser. But if the audience knows what the source’s intent is and if they are probably in agreement with that intent, then directly linking the audience with the message should be done.

Sixteen (16) Ways of Beginning a Message—

Many of these (pages 254-261) overlap to some degree and are somewhat arbitrary in their choices. In other words, we could probably find a 17th or 18th way if we really wanted to.

Startling Statement—often used and usually effective provided the speaker never emotionally abuses or unfairly toys with an audience’s emotions.

Striking (rhetorical) Question—needs to be somewhat provocative and abstract to get the audience thinking. Most effective when the question(s) lead in one direction but the topic goes another.

Suspense—a more developed version of option #1.

Quotations—often clever and can be highly effective. Sometimes difficult to find an appropriate quote and lengthy ones can cause harm in delivery (more on that in Chapter 15).

Illustrations or stories—Historically, this an effective means of beginning a message. Virtually all cultures appreciate good storytellers. But if you are not a good storyteller, stay away from this since a botched story can undermine speaker credibility.

Humor—actually can be incorporated into any of the ways to start a message. Humor does not stand alone; but rather it is mixed into other techniques. But be wary; it can be your best friend if it works well or worst enemy if it backfires.

Reference to Occasion or Place—certain speeches expect a mention in the opening (grand openings, commencements, weddings, etc.)

Appeal to Self Interest of the Receiver—quickly show the audience why your topic is of value or interest to them. Used to ensure the audience understands your purpose.

Challenge to the Audience—a risky venture. A rhetorical attack on the audience to gain their attention. Frequently damaging ethos at this point and care must be taken to rebuild that so the audience does not think less of the source.

Personal Reference—often might be a story or illustration but this is different because it is a personal reference form the speaker. Can be a big plus in source ethos with any audience.

Statement of Purpose--just telling your audience your purpose; really nothing to gain their attention or stimulate their interest. Only rarely a good idea to use this technique, but acceptable if the audience knows what your subject is and is already interested in it.

Use of a Visual Aid—great techniques used to help clarify, add retention to idea, and make an introduction more interesting. Must be relevant to your subject; and must be used properly to be effective. Not appropriate for every setting or every subject.

Reference to a recent event or incident—If recent events have dominated the news and the audience is thoroughly familiar with them, some type of reference to those events, and linked with your subject can be effective.

Complementing the Audience—if the compliment is sincere and the audience perceives it as such, this can be a great way to enhance source ethos and gain attention. But if the compliment is forced or in any way insincere, speaker ethos will be damaged and attention lost.

Reference to Preceding Speaker—in rare occasions we might follow a speaker to the podium. If you can tie your subject into what was just said, this can be effective. Of course, this must almost always occur on the spur of the moment since we seldom know what the other speaker will say until it is said.

Beginning directly with the body—if the subject matter is so important that an introduction is irrelevant then you may jump straight to the body and begin speaking. This is probably only appropriate in times of emergency or the most atypical of situations.

Integration of Introduction and Body—

The introduction should be integrated into the body of the message in a fluid and logical manner. Transitional phrases are vital so that the flow the message is unhindered and logical to the audience. Any type of language that serves to bridge or connect major ideas or sections of the message will suffice.

Length of the Introduction—

No precise percentage or amount of time is required, but generally the time will be somewhere in the 10-15% of the total message. Exceptions exist, of course, but that is the normal range of time. Bottom line: it needs to be as long as required to get the job done.


Often this is the part of the speech or message the audience will remember the most since it comes at the end. But only if it is well done and not botched.

Primary functions or purposes of the conclusion are:

To end the message gracefully. Not long-winded and dragged out nor it is overly abrupt and leaving the audience feeling left out.

To make the ideas presented in the message meaningful. Refocus on the main ideas presented to recap and summarize for the audience.

To enhance the ethos of the source (in some cases). A sense of common bond may exist between speaker and audience. In persuasive speeches the goal is have the audience act on the source’s goal or purpose. Not necessary for informative messages.

Ways of Ending Messages—

How do we go about accomplishing the functions of conclusions? What techniques can be used to finish the rhetorical message?

Make a general summary—touching on the overall main theme discussed in the body of the message. This is a very common and logical way to conclude. Not every message requires a summary but most do.

Summarize Individual Points—a first cousin to the method noted above; but this refers to each point or idea on an individual basis.

Appeal to Emotions—when we close with some type of strong, emotional appeal it is usually coupled with something else; usually not just standing alone. You may use either of the first two techniques and then mix in some emotion on top of them. There is high-risk, high-reward with this technique. Potential always exists for the audience to be “turned off” with strong emotion. However, if they are in agreement with you, such emotion can be quite effective.

Pointing to the Future—This technique depends on the nature of your message, but stopping at a point where you tell the audience how the future will be should they adopt (or fail to adopt) your claim (the Visualization step in the Motivated Sequence) can be used to end the message.

Indicate Personal Intentions—can be an effective motivational tool to close a message with a personal assurance that you will take specific actions to accomplish the goal of your speech. Can build terminal ethos in source and be an effective motivator for the audience.

Request Specific Action—common appeal for persuasive messages the employ a structure like the Motivated Sequence. If we want people to do what we say or follow our requests, we have to be very specific and clear—ask for the order; ask for their help; ask them to act!

Refer to a Quotation—if the audience is familiar with the quote or the speaker, the close can be especially effective as it tends to remain with the audience longer and has a greater impact than it otherwise might. That is not to say that unknown quotes or sources cannot be used; but they will probably less effective for long term retention.

Appeal to the Audience’s Self Interest —sometimes a good way to close a persuasive speech is to appeal the audience’s self-interest as a reinforcement of what was done in the body of the message.

Refer to the Following Speaker—in debate-type settings you may know what the following speaker will discuss and sometimes the opportunity exists to mention that topic to the audience and also inoculate them against what they will hear. Be careful as this potentially can boomerang if the audience perceives your attacks as being unfair or unethical. Of course, if the next speaker is merely reinforcing your position, then the comments will be positive and should benefit the next communicator.

Return to the method employed in the introduction—A reference to the opening comments (the attention-getting technique) is often an excellent way to wrap up any message. It provides the audience a sense of closure and signals a clear ending to the message. Surprisingly, few speakers actually use this technique to close a speech yet it is considered one of the best in a rhetorical sense.

Integrating the Body and the Conclusion—

Every communicator needs a smooth transition from the body of the message into the conclusion and to the final words. Some type of signal needs to be sent; and hopefully something more effective than the old cliché of “in conclusion.” While that is clear, it is hardly original and may send a signal to the audience that they are not particularly important.

Length of the Conclusion—

Similar rules apply for the conclusion that do for the introduction—not too long and not too abrupt. About 10-15% of the entire message length is a good rule of thumb but certainly not an absolute. The actual amount of time is secondary to the basic principle of reminding the audience of any critical points to remember and leaving them with a clear sense of completion of the message.