Wednesday, May 6, 2009

when you introduce a speaker: take 5

Whether you're looking for another stepping-stone to practice your speaking, or you're an experienced speaker tapped to do the honors, chances are you'll wind up introducing other speakers at some point. Intros offer a chance for you to shine as a speaker in a short amount of time, and can lead to more invitations to speak. Here's the trouble: Introductions are among the most common and least-well-done aspects of public speaking. I can't tell you how often, as a speaker, I've had the person introducing me say, "Oh, I forgot to bring your bio, so I'll just say your name--how do you pronouce that again?--and then you just launch into it," or listened to them read my credentials without looking up once. Just like skipping breakfast, a weak intro is not the way to set up a speaker properly for what's to come. Instead of serving up a low-calorie version of an introduction, why not add some fiber and nutritional value with these five tips?
    1. Don't put it together at the last minute: Just as you normally don't want to give an impromptu speech, avoid crafting an impromptu introduction. You'll do better by your speaker if you take the time to jot down thoughts a few weeks ahead, revisiting them before you get to the event, and again just before you speak.
    2. Do ask the speaker for input: I advise speakers to take charge of their own introductions, including having a suite of intros suitable for many occasions. But in case your speaker doesn't (and even if she does), arrange for a short call in advance to find out more about her personal experience with the topic, what she'd like to emphasize, what's especially interesting to her about this group, or other details you can use to make the intro meatier. And yes, ask her how to pronounce her name.
    3. Don't read the bio: Reading an introduction is no better than reading a speech--and belies your lack of preparation. Remember: Audience interest is highest at the start of any talk, and you are the start of this one. So reward your audience by looking at it, and by delivering an engaging, lively introduction that packs a punch.
    4. Do add some perspective of your own: When you're standing up front to introduce a speaker, you're in effect building a chance to connect the audience with the speaker. So put yourself in that equation. Just this week, a lovely introduction of one of my speeches noted one of my awards--and the introducer added that a good friend of hers was the current holder of that prize, so she knew just what accomplishments it reflected. That kind of line holds an audience's attention precisely because it's not read off the sheet, and no one else can share it but you. (Makes the speaker feel great, too.)
    5. Don't skimp: Saying someone needs no introduction is a cop-out. Set the stage. Share some context. Even the most familiar speaker deserves some words to warm the audience to the task at hand....and if you skimp on an introduction, you're just missing your own opportunity to show your speaking skills.