Yes, the introduction matters
“A poor introduction can derail even the best speech.” ~ Michael Hudson
Chances are that in the past couple of months you’ve attended at least one education or training session, convention keynote, or business presentation. And my bet is that in almost every case someone introduced the speaker to the audience.
If things went well you probably don’t remember the introduction. In fact, you may think that the introduction doesn’t really matter and just kills time before the speaker takes the platform.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The introduction matters, and it serves several important functions (at least it does when it is done correctly), including:
- Presenting the speaker’s topic to the audience and putting it into the proper context for the meeting
- Creating a moment of anticipation for the audience as they wonder about the message as the speaker takes the stage
- Introducing the speaker to the audience in a way that endorses them and lets the audience know they have a message of value
But all too often the process of introducing the speaker is treated casually and not handled very well.
The truth is that every amateur and professional speaker I know has at least one horror story about a bad introduction that derailed a well planned and rehearsed speech.
After delivering more than 7,500 presentations across the past 30 years I have a sizable collection, including…
- an introducer who had one too many glasses of merlot at the reception before the dinner and slurred, mispronounced, or misread literally every word of the 24-point copy on the printed introduction that was provided a week in advance
- an introducer who told an off-color joke that had no connection to the audience or the topic then handed me the microphone simply saying “here’s our speaker” and walked off-stage
- an introducer who shared that they had tried to get someone else who wasn’t available and told the audience that person recommended me as a ‘pinch-hitter who would probably do OK’
- an introducer who made it perfectly clear they felt they should be delivering the speech instead of me and promised to share anything that I left out at their next event
- an introducer who had known me since childhood who felt it appropriate to make a reference about having known me since “my days *#^@!&% in my diapers”
As much as I hate to admit it, the list could go on, but I’m pretty sure you get the message (and believe me you can’t make some of this stuff up).
The Bottom Line: An introduction can set the speaker up to connect with the audience and create a powerful impact, or it can create a dis-connect for the audience that even the best speaker cannot overcome.
Here are my 3 best tips for the next time you are asked to introduce someone, or are in a situation where someone is going to introduce you:
- Choose the Right Introducer—The key to delivering a great introduction is to have a genuine and sincere interest in the speaker’s success. When a personal connection exists that allows the introducer to share insight that helps the audience understand the value of the message it should be used, but only if it supports the message being delivered. If there is a person with a position or title that makes them the logical person to deliver the introduction make sure they are prepared for success by following the next two tips.
- Always Use/Provide a Written Introduction—If you’re the introducer, don’t trust yourself to deliver it effectively off-the-cuff. Reach out to the speaker in advance and ask a few questions, review their bio, and write a brief introduction using these guidelines from Toastmasters International. If you’re the speaker write your own introduction, print it in large type to make it easy to read, and share it with your introducer at least a week in advance. Be sure to include the instruction to please read this verbatim.
- Connect the Speaker and the Introducer in Advance—It is worth the effort to speak with the person you are introducing or the person who will be introducing you before even the smallest event. Make sure you both understand the role of the introduction and the impact that it can have. If you are the speaker ask the introducer to help you make the event a success by delivering a strong introduction to connect the group to you and your message. If you are the introducer be flexible and work with the speaker to set them up for success.