Speakers serve audiences. It’s easy to forget that, but speakers who last figure that out quickly. If you are a speaker, you can help that process along by coaching the person who will introduce you with these tips. If you are the person introducing the speaker, here’s what a speaker should tell you.
You are really helping set up the speech. Introducers usually either follow the directions they receive from the speaker, or else have to come up with an introduction on their own. In either case, introducers often make the same mistake: spending too much time on the speaker’s background. Audiences all listen to the same radio station, as Zig Ziglar used to say: WII-FM, which stands for “What’s in it for me?” It’s worthwhile including biographical information in the program notes, agenda, or handout, but “out loud” the introducer should focus on connecting the speaker, topic, and audience.
So don’t waste time on, “He’s done this, and he’s done that, and he’s received these awards, and he played college basketball and receive the adulation of fans, etc.”
Keep it short. The longer you talk in an introduction, the more time you’re taking away from giving the speaker the chance to grab the audience’s attention. My rule of thumb: seldom should an introduction run over 30 seconds.
Work out the introduction with the speaker ahead of time. The speaker has enough challenges without having to deal with something unexpected from the person doing the introduction. Remember this is not the time to showcase your own cleverness. Out of service to the audience, focus on connecting the speaker.
Avoid the cliche introduction. Think about the usual pieces from the standpoint of the audience member. “Our speaker today needs no introduction.” So why are you giving one? “It is my privilege to introduce today’s speaker.” How is this helpful in figuring out what’s in it for me, the audience member? “You’re really in for a treat.” I’ll be the judge of that.
Allude to the problem the speaker will solve or the need the speaker will address. This immediately gets to the WII-FM question. When audience members know from the beginning that the speaker will address some pressing need, they have a reason to tune in and stay tuned in.
Work out logistics ahead of time. It is minor, but on the other hand, a bit of awkwardness in relinquishing the lectern or passing a microphone can interfere with the speaking getting off on the right foot. Since audience remember most readily the first thing and the last thing they hear, it’s worth the extra effort to make sure it goes smoothly. Clarify briefly such things as which way you will step to get out of the way as the speaker comes to the lectern, whether or not you will shake hands, what your cue to the speaker will be, etc.
Generally, never come between the speaker and the audience. I recommend this pattern: if you occupy the same space that the speaker will, and will exit the podium via the same route the speaker will enter, shake hands, pass the microphone (if it’s a hand-held), then take a step toward the back of the podium so the speaker can step to the front. If you didn’t work this out with the speaker ahead of time, you can help this along by gently tugging the speaker toward the lectern or the front of the stage, and by a definite turn of your head indicate you’re going to the back, leaving no doubt which way you’re going. That will avoid the little dance that sometimes results as you jockey around each other.
There’s an art to introducing a speaker, and many more tips we might share. But these will put you ahead of 90% of introducers, leading to a grateful speaker and a better-served audience.
What tips would you share for folks needing to introduce a speaker?