How to introduce a speaker, based on the worst intro I’ve ever gotten
January 26, 2018
This story is lodged in my brain forever.
Back when I worked at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce running workforce and education programs, I spoke at events regularly. Everything from conferences and banquets to panel discussions and workshops. I gave keynotes, emceed, presented awards, and once, just stood for photos and smiled. (I never looked at celebrity-posing events the same after that).
Since I was usually one of the speakers, I didn’t introduce other folks as often. Which is too bad, because I believe I’m truly good at it. I’ve seen some great ones, not just at conferences, but at bookstores, sports events, fundraisers, dinners, even informal gatherings.
If your job is to introduce a speaker, you have 3 distinct duties:
To perfectly capture the moment
To make the topic relatable and important
To uniquely position the speaker to succeed
However you choose to accomplish those, through your personality, a unique story, some other creative in-the-moment idea, is entirely up to you. But there are 3 things that are NOT your job:
To read the speaker’s entire bio (or none of it)
To talk more about yourself than the speaker
To not care, parrot cliches, or just generally go through the motions
It is amazing to me just how hard it is for some folks to accomplish this. Sometimes, they are volunteers or young professionals who are simply not suited for the role or just in over their heads. But, often, they are mid- to- senior- professionals who do not understand the role of an introduction or likely haven’t noticed when an effective introduction has been given.
The worst introduction I ever received was at an economic development conference. I was there representing my team and my organization with the mix of research and practical “case studies” that populate most breakout sessions. I was the event’s last speaker, at about 3 pm on the second day. A women whom I had only moments before been introduced to was doing my introduction. She was holding my single-page bio in her hands and seemed pretty relaxed.
Moments later, I would be marveling at the hole in which I was starting. When you’ve been poorly introduced, your entire session feels a bit tainted and, as subtle as it may seem to the audience, it’s an effort to get things back on track, even if just in your own mind. A bad introduction is at best, deflating; at worst, derailing.
So, let’s look at what happened.
First, what she could have said was something like this:
Good afternoon, everyone, and congratulations! You have all made it to the last session of our two-day conference. Give yourself a hand! Ok, that’s good practice, because I want you to do that again in a few moment.
He will be talking about [topic]. He is the [job title] at the U.S. Chamber. He [interesting fact about his background, related to the topic]. Speaking for the audience, I think we’re all very interested in [aspect of topic].
So, please give a warm welcome as I turn it over to [presenter].
Not too hard, right? 6-7 sentences, minimal improvisation, logical order (end with their name), but still conversational and helpful. A modest bridge, one might say.
Instead, on this particular day in 2008, here’s what I got:
Our final speaker today is [first name only].
It’s been a long day and I’m sure you’re all looking forward to finishing strong.
I don’t know our speaker, but I do know that he kind of looks like Bill Gates.
So please welcome [full name, looking down at paper].
So, now you know the difference between a good introduction and one that sucks. I give you this gift of wisdom. Go forth and do not suck.
Founder, The Idea Enthusiast. Speaker, Trainer, Facilitator, and writer about all things creative consulting. DC-based consultant to individuals who want to be more creative, teams who want to collaborate without fear, and anyone who wants to deliver the best pitches and presentations.