We were reviewing the stats on this blog recently, and one of the surprising numbers is that the blog post that consistently gets the most views is one I did over a half-dozen years ago on how to introduce a speaker. I suppose that’s where most people start their speaking careers – introducing someone else – so I shouldn’t be too surprised, really. Anyway, rather than cursing the fates and wishing that all those posts I’ve researched and written on neuroscience and speaking had come up on top, I thought I should just embrace the inevitable and update the introduction blog post. After all, the earlier post mentions DVDs. Remember those? And my second book. I know you don’t remember that one. So here goes. How to give a great introduction in 2018. What’s changed, and what stays the same?
You brag about the speaker so she doesn’t have to brag about herself. The basic purpose of an introduction hasn’t changed at all. But today, it’s even more important to have you, the third-party endorsement, in effect, to lift the speaker up in the audience’s eyes. We are even less tolerant than we were over six years ago to hear people bragging about themselves. The idea is to tell us why we should care about the remarkable person who is about to speak to us so that we can get amped up about hearing the speech.
Don’t read the speaker’s resume. In fact, don’t read at all. If this is your first speaking outing, you’re most likely going to be nervous. And you’re afraid you’re going to forget something. But don’t write the entire introduction out and read it word for word. People’s voices go sing-song when they read, and the result sounds like you don’t mean the nice things you’re saying. And it’s boring – bringing the audience down precisely when you should be bringing us up. Instead, make a few notes so that you can, accurately but conversationally, say a few charming things about high points from the speaker’s life story. And make them relevant high points, please. And give us your authentic self – giving something heartfelt about the speaker. Which leads to. . . .
Get real. Get emotional. Get authentic. If you can. The best kind of introductions tell us how the speaker has rocked your world, so by extension said speaker will now rock the audience’s world. Now, don’t make it up if it isn’t true. But this is an era of authentic confession and revelation. So if you’ve just met the speaker 30 minutes before you give the introduction, you’re going to fall a little flat. And maybe someone else should do the intro. We want a quick emotional high before the talk itself.
Don’t try to be funny. Over the years, by far the worst introductions I’ve heard have been by people trying to be funny, or clever, about the speaker. Don’t poke fun at the speaker. Don’t do it. Just don’t. Build the speaker up. Let the speaker do her own self-deprecation if she wants to. But your job is a single, simple one: make the speaker look good in the audience’s eyes. Anything else is counter-productive.
The basics stay the same. You’re still answering three questions about the speaker for the audience. First, why is this speaker so worthwhile, exciting, and relevant? Meaning, what in the speaker’s experience, expertise, or life journey puts her at the head of the pack? Second, why is this speaker the person to be talking about the subject of the speech? (And, by the way, what is that?) And third, why is this speaker particularly wonderful for this audience? In other words, make a strong connection so that the speaker already feels like the audience is on her side as she walks out to take the stage. That’s it. Why this speaker, why this topic, why this audience? No more, no less.
And always end with, “So please join me in welcoming….XXXXXXX!” That will start the applause and allow you to get off the stage and the speaker to get on under cover of applause, rather than an awkward silence.
A good introduction should never be more than three minutes long. Then-governor Bill Clinton infamously introduced Michael Dukakis at the 1988 Democratic National Convention for 33 minutes and nearly sunk his career before it started. The speech was so badly received that the Democrats cheered when he said, “In conclusion.” Don’t make that rookie mistake. Keep your introduction short, to the point, and very, very sweet.
Keep these straightforward rules in mind and you’ll do a good job. If you’re tasked with introducing someone, interview them beforehand, so that you can ask for the necessary information to answer your three questions effectively. If they send you an intro they’ve already prepared, use it. Don’t invent something else. A good deal of thought and effort has gone into that intro, so help the speaker out by using it.
And finally, do shake the speaker’s hand as you go off stage, as the audience applauds. That grounds the speaker and helps connect her (through you) to the audience.
Virtual introductions and more in my new book, Can You Hear Me? How to Connect with People in a Virtual World, due out from Harvard in October. You can pre-order it here! Thanks!