Tuesday, December 12, 2006

How to Introduce a Speaker

Introducing a speaker is an important task and yet many introductions come across as an afterthought. No introduction at all is better than an half-hearted effort and, unfortunately, some introductions actually harm the subsequent speech. Here are some ground rules:

1. Never read the introduction. Droning through a recitation of the speaker's credentials signals that you had neither the time nor the inclination to prepare a proper introduction. That, of course, starts the presentation on precisely the wrong note. Introductions should engage the interest of the audience and indirectly announce that this person deserves attention.
2. Never go into the details of the presentation. Doing so risks covering ground that the speaker plans to address or reveal. Unless you've cleared it with the speaker, don't give the audience a specific example of what the speaker will discuss. It is possible that the speaker doesn't want to touch on that point.
3. Never criticize the topic. Believe it or not, I've heard people announce that the upcoming speaker is about to discuss a very boring topic. Somewhat mysteriously, on each occasion, I've been able to read the speaker's mind.
4. Don't set impossible standards. Have you ever heard someone tell you that the joke you're about to hear is the funniest one in the world? Was it? Of course not, if only because your defenses were triggered. You immediately think, "Funniest joke? I doubt it." The same reaction occurs when an introduction sets the bar too high.
5. Do your homework. Get your facts straight. You certainly don't want the speaker to have to correct items that were mentioned in the introduction.
6. Keep it short. People don't want to hear you. They're there for the speaker. Mention the key introductory points and then get out of the way. Think: Positive, polite, and short.
7. Be alert for anything that might embarrass the speaker. If the speaker arrived shortly before the presentation and there were earlier speakers, give the speaker a brief description of their key points if there is danger of a possible overlap. If anything occurred earlier at the event or in the organization that may influence the audience's mood or reaction to the presentation, discreetly let the speaker know before the presentation. If the speaker's hair is mussed, a button is unbuttoned, or a tie is askew, give a heads-up. Believe me, your speakers will appreciate it.
8. Don't upstage the speaker. If you are eloquent and the speaker isn't, be especially brief. Your job is to help and not "show up" the speaker.
9. Give the speaker time to reflect. Many speakers like some quiet time to collect thoughts before a presentation. Give them some space. Odds are, they won't want to be "chatted up" just before they go on.
10. Watch yourself. If you are remaining in the room or at the head table, you are expected to be the personification of a polite, enthralled, audience member. If you act preoccupied, distracted, or bored, you are not only being impolite, you are failing in your responsibilities. Either pay rapt attention or be gone.

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