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.