Avoid these common mistakes…

When I attend a presentation, the first thing that captures my attention isn’t the speaker or the material. It’s the person who introduces the speaker.

After giving more than few thousand speeches over the years, I’ve been struck by the many ways that different people introduce the same speaker. Some introductions energize the speaker and seem to leave the audience excited to hear from them. Other introductions inadvertently make it more difficult to deliver a successful speech. Your introduction is a mini-speech itself, it can set up the audience and the speaker for success. What you say matters.

In my experience, the best introductions avoid these common mistakes:

Don’t read it out loud!

Often introducers walk up to the microphone with a written biography in hand then proceed to read it aloud, sadly often staggering through it.

As professional speaker, even I find it difficult read a written bio out loud, I can give a speech lasting 55 mins without a pause or slip – but reading aloud, oh no!

Simple rule for introducers: Don’t do this. It is boring, bio’s (even short ones) are written to inform, not intrigue or inspire. Tease the audience, involve them, stir curiosity and never tell the speaker’s entire life history.

Instead of reading a bio, focus on three or four interesting bits about the speaker. One of the best intros I’ve ever received:

“Geoffrey X Lane is a presentation coach/director who has advised leaders ranging from Premier of British Columbia to Telus, Methanex, Rogers and the Winter Olympic Bid. He’s the author of Presentation Power and he used to be a platform artist!”

The Content is sacred!

I’ve seen the speaker waiting turn white as a ghost as their best line is given away, destroying any surprise.

As speaker’s we all fear this and it has happened to me – then as I wait to speak I am thinking “how do I close my speech – now that I have no punch line – what the ^*%@ do I do now”.

Simple rule for introducers: the content is off limits to you, as it belongs to the speaker. It is OK to tell us the purpose of the presentation, or the topic of the speech, without divulging the message or the conclusion.

You can also create a curiosity with, “Today’s speaker will challenge your assumptions about ……”

“Today’s speaker will provide exciting insights about ……”

Speakers are NOT superhuman.

If you set the expectations so high, to superhuman or worse superhero heights, the expectations of the audience will also be set. While you may believe the speaker is in fact ‘super’ leave room for the audience to discover this as well.

Let your respect and enthusiasm for the speaker show, this will allow the audience to engage with the insights and laugh at the humor. This enhances the speaker’s confidence and ability to command attention and if something goes wrong, the audience will be more forgiving.

Simple rule for introducers: It’s better if you under-promise, and then let the speaker over-deliver.

Our speaker needs no introduction

Simple rule for introducers: Don’t say, this, as it is foolish, as you’re there to do an introduction. Be different. Come right out with the speaker’s name: “Mary Smith is not only a key executive of ___, she is a leading authority on ___.” Everybody knows her name (usually there is a printed program), so why pretend you’re building to a surprise by waiting until the end of the introduction to give the speaker’s name? Say it out loud, say it up front and go from there.

If you’re introducing someone who’s well known to most of the attendees, such as a fellow executive in the same company, use the opportunity to say something new about him or her. Part of your job is to get the speaker off to a good start, and even old friends appreciate thoughtful introductions.

Your Introduction Matters

The key to an effective introduction is to give the audience a compelling reason why the speaker was asked to be there. Your job is to sell it. This usually has nothing to do with where he or she went to school or how many kids they’ve got. Tell the audience that they’re about to hear from an expert and then relay the information that makes the speaker the expert (i.e., their qualifications and how much experience they have).

The major exceptions to the logical reason rule are testimonial introductions and award introductions. In these cases, where the honorary or recipient is going to give an acceptance speech, the introduction is a mini-speech itself. Your best plan is to get a detailed résumé from the individual.

Then if you don’t know the person, interview him or her by phone to get some additional interesting material. Even better, interview one or two of the person’s acquaintances and build a personal profile, because a testimonial refers to the character and qualities of the person you’re introducing. Again, double-check information in résumés and newspaper clippings, because facts change.

If in doubt ask the speaker for guidance, and always show up.

photo credit: Håkan Dahlström Microphones via photopin (license)