Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Take charge of your introduction

Lots of my trainees say that "getting started" is the toughest part of any speech or presentation, and I agree: It's a time when audience attention is highest, and therefore a time when mistakes are magnified. If you're anxious about the session to boot, you'll feel even more under the microscope. And in my focus groups on women and public speaking, I've heard many women say they hear other women speakers start out by apologizing for some early issue or problem, from the room temperature to the sound system--not the image you want the audience to take away.

One great way to take charge at the start of your speech is to take charge of your introduction. Typically, someone--the organizer, a colleague, the host, a moderator--has the task of introducing you, and in my experience, few introducers take the time to make their words memorable. But rather than count on your introducer to do the research, the smart speaker prepares a suitable intro for herself. Here are a few ways to do that effectively:
  • Focus not on your resume, but on why you're here today: If you have specific credentials or interests that make this speech or this audience especially important or motivating to you, focus on them. "Janet's worked in many fields, but one reason she's here to speak to us today is to share her long-standing interest in microfinance for women's economic advancement. She spends her vacations volunteering for a major project in microfinance, and she'll be telling us about that experience today" tells your audience more than they'll find on your resume. You'll pique interest even further with that lead-in.
  • Add some humor to a long list of achievements: "Marie's received many awards, but none so important to her as the opportunity to step away from her desk to speak to us. She begs you not to call her office and report her missing." Again, an attention-getter and one that will give you a smiling audience to face. I once faced an audience that knew I'd arrived at the conference with an illness, and I spent a lot of time recuperating before my talk. My start? "I normally bring a lot of infectious enthusiasm to this topic, but if you don't mind, today I'll skip the infectious part...."
  • Take over your own intro: Tell the moderator to give you the briefest of introductions, then work your own introduction into the start of your speech. Talking about yourself helps you build a relationship directly with your audience--and ensures the items you want to emphasize aren't lost or dropped.
On our sister blog at don't get caught, I've offered writers tips for a suite of introductions of various lengths. Take the time to prepare this collection of intros for yourself (or if you have a writer to help, share it with her) to be sure that your introducers don't get caught unprepared to give you a great entrance.


Terry Gault said...


Thanks for the post!

A few small things I would add to your advice for creating solid introductions would be to:

1: Use stories

Using personal stories can always make the presenter seem more personable, approachable and human...especially when they add humor.

2: Take command of the space

As the presenter, it is your job to create the best environment for your audience to have a good experience, so taking charge of the space is crucial. If you need to move something, move it. If you need to write something on the flip chart or white board, do so.

If you become too deferential, it can be seen as a lack of confidence, which will undermine your authority and thereby your presentation as a whole!

Thanks again

Dana Bristol-Smith said...

Great tips Denise! I especially love your advice to add humor to your introduction. Most audience members tune out from long boring introductions. By adding humor you will be sure to keep their attention and have them in a pleasant mood for your opening.

I would just offer a caution, if you do take over your own intro, be careful about talking about yourself too much. If the audience feels like you are there for your own self promotion you will lose their attention and interest.

Thank you again!