Last week, I updated a post from 2011 that has been perennially popular, on giving an in-person introduction for a speaker.  But today, your introduction of someone else may just as likely be online, for a webinar or a video conference or something similar.  Does the virtual medium affect the rules of introducing someone?  How should you think about giving a good virtual introduction?

Ultimately, people crave human emotional connection—in everything, everywhere. We are social beings. But virtual connections are more fragile and less satisfying than in-person ones. Unconsciously, we want our virtual connections to feel the same as our in-person ones—just as real, just as satisfying, just as emotionally compelling—but they can’t fill that need.

The virtual introduction suffers from this general issue.  Rather than just give a poor version of an in-person introduction, then, you need to re-think the genre of introductions, take advantage of the strengths of the virtual world, and do something different.

What do I mean by doing something different?

Take advantage of the typical webinar or video conference set up.  Your audience will be listening in or watching on a computer or some sort of mobile device. That means they most likely have access to the Internet.  So you’re still going to answer the classic three introduction questions: (1) why is this speaker so worthwhile, exciting, and relevant? (2) why is this speaker the best person to be talking about the subject of the speech?  (And, by the way, what is that?)  (3) And, why is this speaker particularly wonderful for this audience?  But you’re also going to be able to point to relevant and carefully selected online material about the speaker, and perhaps even run a short video.

And you might offer, say, to send everyone who signed up for the event some follow up material the speaker has thoughtfully provided.

You’re still going to keep the introduction short and very, very sweet, but you’ve got the opportunity to get a little creative with the format, rather than simply provide the online equivalent of the guy who goes to the podium, takes out a sheaf of paper, and proceeds to read a toneless introduction that threatens to put the audience to sleep and certainly fails to create excitement in advance of the speaker.

Because it’s the virtual world, there are some general rules to keep in mind as you think specifically about introducing someone.

Be consistent.  Remember, trust is fragile online. The merest sign of inconsistency can turn an audience off. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that being human online means being as human as people can be face-to-face. If you’re introducing someone with a particular set of values, don’t violate those values in the intro.

Observe propriety.  Online, it helps to be just a touch holier than the rest. Don’t curse, don’t use off-color humor, and so on, unless those practices are well accepted in your world. And it’s surprising how people who don’t mind the occasional curse in a small group will suddenly become excessively dainty and proper in a public setting, especially when a professional situation is involved. Don’t take the chance.

Don’t overstay your welcome.  What is charming in the right proportions online can become instantly tedious when it’s too much.

Begin with the big picture.  As Simon Sinek brilliantly established in his book Start with Why, people need to understand what they’re working toward. It’s that simple. Tell them why they’re there and why the speaker will be an exciting next chapter in their day.

Give people personal connections.  With the permission of the speaker, of course, you can give out information such as email addresses for questions, as well as the usual Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc tags.  We like to feel like insiders, so give your audience the online version of a VIP pass.

Giving a virtual introduction is an opportunity to re-think what is at stake and how you might go about redefining a very overworked genre.  What are the strengths of the virtual world that can make your next virtual introduction not a poor version of a face-to-face one, but rather an intro that fully exploits the strengths of the online world?

This post was adapted from 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.

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