Professional speakers often have glitzy video introductions to be played before they speak. The video establishes their credibility, revs up the audience, and makes the speaker seem like a star.
Most of us, though, rely on an actual living and breathing person to introduce us when we speak at our professional association or networking group. Might be the organization’s leader, or maybe the person in charge of programming. When it’s your turn to take the front of the room, how do you make sure that introduction goes well?
Write it yourself.
Because introductions can go sideways if you leave them to chance. The person bringing you on may have the best of intentions and still bollix it up if you make them come up with the content.
- They drone on and on talking more about them than you.
- They drone on and on and it IS about you. Your degrees, your list of former jobs, your charitable work, your mother’s maiden name … they give the audience too much detail.
- They don’t know anything about you, and it shows.
- They try – and fail – to be funny.
- They get something wrong. Like your name. (Remember John Travolta introducing Idina Menzel at the Oscars?)
Okay, there are no guarantees. But you can head off a lot of potential problems by writing the introduction yourself. Email it to the person running the meeting and the person introducing you. And bring a hard copy along yourself, just in case.
Keep it short. The last thing you want is a bunch of blahblah boring the audience before you start to speak. Under a minute is good … somewhere between 100 and 150 words.
Ideally, your intro explains why this group needs to hear what you have to say. And why you’re the person to say it. And it includes your name; if it’s at all unusual, spell it out phonetically.
Some experts say the introduction should include your talk title. To me, that’s superfluous. A tantalizing title might have drawn people to attend the meeting. Now that they’re sitting in front of you, the title doesn’t much matter.
Should you allow the introducer to ad lib? Depends.
Most professional speakers prefer that the intro be read verbatim. I’m often introduced by someone who knows me reasonably well; I’m comfortable if they want to add a thought of their own about the topic or about me.
Yes, that opens the door for disaster. I’m comfortable with that; you can decide whether you are or not. The pay-off is that the audience will likely hear your introducer’s enthusiasm for you.
It’s true; that enthusiasm can be a double-edged sword. Maybe you’ve seen the HBO special Talking Funny. Louis CK tells about opening for Jerry Seinfeld and introducing Seinfeld as the best comedian in the world.
Set-up for success, right? Not so much. Seinfeld went ballistic: “Don’t ever put pressure on a person like that!”
Seinfeld demonstrates an audience that’s just been told how fabulous you are. Arms folded across chests, chins jutting out, with an expression that says, “Prove it.”
So an ideal introduction lets the audience know they’re in the right place, but doesn’t go far enough to trigger that “Go ahead, entertain me, I dare you” response.
Bonus tips for you who’ve read this far. I decided to write this article after Diana Schneidman introduced me at Engaging Speakers the other day. She commented on the written intro I gave her; it occurred to me you might find the format useful too.
You want to make it easy for the person to glance at the paper and look back at the audience. So …
- Use a large font (16 or even 18)
- Double-space the copy
- Break your lines of copy at the natural pause in a sentence, not necessarily where your word processor jumps to the next line. Your text won’t go all the way to the right margin – you’ll be surprised at what a difference that makes in reading out loud.
Now go out there and get yourself introduced …