Making The Perfect Speaker Introduction

Originally Featured in Professional Speaker Magazine

Creating a Seamless Handoff: From Introducer to Speaker

Cavett Robert, our late and beloved founder, impressed the role of the introducer in the mind of his colleagues with this statement, “You are not the picture. You’re the frame. The frame sets off the picture.”

If you have ever had an introduction, given an introduction, or plan on introducing or being introduced, there are several specific points you need to know:

Speaker Responsibility

The introduction needs to be taken seriously. Often the introducer is someone who ordinarily would not even be let on the platform, says veteran MC and CPAE, Ty Boyd. So, what is a speaker to do?

Maggie Bedrosian says you should write out your introduction and get it to the introducer in advance. Then have them read it back to you. Make sure they have pronunciation correct. Spell out your name phonetically, or state what it “rhymes with,” advises John Jay Daly. And always carry a copy of the introduction with you. David Alan Yoho, CPAE, who speaks and MC’s, finds that at least 30% of the time, the introducer loses the written introduction he was sent in advance. Of course, you can write a new introduction on the spot in longhand. But, that does not allow for the word crafting you may want. If you do want your introduction read exactly as is, write it down, and get agreement from your introducer.

Maggie advises introducing an element of surprise or delight, providing a “tasty” introduction that draws attention. Find a word as concrete as “broccoli” to startle or arouse curiosity. She recommends that your final sentence be a “bridging” statement including a benefit, such as, “Here to share surprising information on how a bumper sticker can [benefit] put more balance in your life is…..” The speaker can then provide a seamless continuation by using some of the same words in her opening sentence.

Nido Qubein, CPAE, uses his read-as-written introduction to position himself as “a business person who happens to speak” by citing specific business connections. His written intro also keeps the introducer from digressing, and builds the anticipation of the audience toward Nido’s opening comments.

Humor May Take a Special Set-Up

Ron Culberson gives his introducer a choice of four introductions. Ron is happy to go with any one of them. However, if the introducer chooses his humorous introduction, he requires that it be read exactly as written. David Alan Yoho reports, that one nervous introducer took the directions to: “read as written” so literally that he even read the stage directions – “now shake David’s hand.”

Tom Antion uses a well tested laugh line in his introduction to gauge the receptiveness of his audience. He has two openings ready to go. One is for the audience that needs warming up, while the other is for the audience that is ready to laugh.

The Introducer Role: Establishing Protocol

You are not the focus. However you do set the tone and pace for the opening. You are a leader for the audience. You model the behavior you want the audience to adopt. You capture attention and control immediately, then transfer both to the speaker. Nido asks himself, when he introduces, “Am I accomplishing with this introduction, what this speaker needs to make a perfect connection with this audience?”

Introducer Responsibility: “There to Serve, Not to Shine”

Ty Boyd advocates using the name of the speaker 3-4 times in your introduction. You are, after all, introducing that individual. Help the audience make an interesting connection while totally focusing the introduction on that person. Convey why this speaker was selected or how this speaker fits into the theme, or this place on the program. The reason this speaker is giving this speech at this time, is more interesting than a series of credentials.

If you can, personalize the introduction: provide a current tie-in, e.g. topic to theme, event, location, group, or even to that specific day or purpose for the meeting. Cite facts about the speaker emphatically in declarative sentences, rather than tentatively. Avoid words such as “probably,” “I think,” “maybe,” or “could be.”

Don’t upstage the speaker in any way: style, dress, or energy. You cannot be the hero of any part of this, so use no more than 5% personal reference about yourself as the introducer. CPAE Patricia Fripp would not, for example, wear a flamboyant hat in introducing someone, as she would if she were the featured speaker. And Nido stands at the side of the stage, leaving center stage completely to the speaker. He also reads the speaker’s written introduction, rather than showcasing his own communication style.

Playing “second chair” includes giving the speaker first choice on audience relief short of taking a break before the speech. If the audience has been sitting a long time, let the speaker give them a stretch before he begins. That can build an instant rapport with the audience, rather than the speaker being perceived as the last person they will have to tolerate on a long program.

The Introduction:

An introduction provides the answers to the following questions: Why this speaker, this subject, this audience, at this time? John Jay Daly applies what was, pre-political correctness, called the miniskirt rule to introductions: “It should be short enough to be interesting, and long enough to cover the subject.” Ty Boyd says that “one minute is a gracious plenty for most people. You can qualify anyone in 30-60 seconds. Too much data and they snooze.”

The better known the individual, the less an introduction is necessary. For example, Gen. Colin Powell needs little introduction, but would probably be given at least an introduction of moderate length out of respect.

Ty suggests that one way to build intimacy is to be a little “gossipy,” relating something of a personal nature, a little known fact, or a special talent, relationship, or community service of the speaker. For example, “What you may not know about this evening’s speaker is….” Don’t overbuild or set up the speaker as “the world’s funniest.” Instead, refer to her as “a very, very funny woman.” Ty further suggests that you pause ever so briefly as you say the speaker’s…title….first name…and last name.

And when the introduction goes a little overboard… David Alan Yoho has several comments rehearsed to reduce the effects of hyperbole [hype] in his introduction. When someone sets him up, he defuses with humor and humility, “Four things I don’t know are…..” then spells them out. “Luckily, were not dealing with them tonight.” Or, “I’ve spent my life learning….., and that’s what I’m here to share. I only hope that I can make our time together interesting this evening.”

Choosing Your Entrance

At one recent national convention, three showcase presenters in a row made run-up-on-the- stage-Tony Robbins style entries. This was supposed to say, “Wake up! High energy speaker arriving.” Unfortunately, each speaker then panted through the first 2-3 minutes of his presentation. To be convincing, you have to be in condition. Get in shape or find an approach that is more natural to you. Don’t choose a rousing rally-type introducer if you are relatively low key and would not naturally maintain that energy level.

Transferring Command:

Once the introduction is made, the introducer does not relinquish the stage until command is clearly transferred to the speaker. The introducer needs to know what the speaker is going to do when she comes out. The specifics of this hand-off should be discussed between speaker and introducer, choreographed, and practiced on that very stage prior to the introduction. President Reagan always practiced his entry. Professional speakers need to be on site early enough to practice on the actual stage set.

Note the placement of the staircase. Plan for a smooth flow on and off the platform. Place one stair set for easy entry; another for easy exit. Mark a spot on the stage for the introducer if helpful. Introducer, do not relinquish the lectern, stage position, or microphone until you have welcomed the speaker on stage, shaken hands, embraced, or whatever specifics you have worked out to facilitate the hand off.

Once the speaker arrives at the lectern, you are ready to exchange places and then, sit down. Be a good listener. Leave the congratulations on your performance for later. Model, how you want the audience to react by keeping your full attention on the speaker.

Introducer Responsibilities After the Introduction

Once you have transferred command, you may become the Sergeant at Arms for the room, monitoring and anticipating the needs of both speaker and audience alike. Many of these items can be worked out with the speaker in advance, or may already be delegated to others. However, there is always the unforeseen. And that is where you come in.

If you remain standing, the better to oversee arrangements, keep your primary focus on the speaker and avoid distracting sidebar conversations with others. You need to know the location of the basic controls and settings for the room. And you need to move without hesitation at the first hint of someone vacuuming the carpet just outside the door.

Do not otherwise leave the room unless you absolutely have to. And then leave only after the speaker gains the attention of the audience.