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How to Introduce a Speaker

Recently I gave a presentation to a group of 40 people at a statewide conference.  A few minutes before the official start time I noticed that all the seats were filled so I asked the audience if I could start early.  All were in favor.  Why did I want to start early?  To avoid the ubiquitous death-by-introduction nightmare that runs rampant at these types of conferences.

I’m sure you’ve experienced this scenario before: you’re in your seat waiting for the presentation to start; the speaker is up front fidgeting while he or she waits for the conference volunteer – a complete stranger – to read the introduction from a piece of paper they’ve never laid eyes on.  The introducer slogs through the text with no emotion and usually a lot of mistakes.  Then, the speaker is supposed to step right in and be compelling.  Ugh.

This blog post is written to help those who are asked to introduce a speaker.  Regardless of how famous or powerful that speaker may be, if you follow these tips, you will give a great introduction and at the same time, ensure that the speaker can really hit their stride right out of the gate.

In order to deliver a dynamic and compelling introduction, you must do three things:

1. Obtain the speaker’s biography

Most speakers have a biographical sketch ready to go at a moment’s notice so this should not be a difficult task. If your speaker does not have one ready, then ask them to give you the Big Five:  current job and title, areas of expertise, academic background, title/focus of presentation, and something personal such as hobbies or hometown.  The biggest challenge is usually cutting out information from a lengthy and dry biography.

2.  Balance credibility with creativity

The goal is to give the audience enough information to establish the credibility of the speaker without going overboard. The next goal is to provide a sense of the speaker as a person.  One important distinction you must make is whether or not you can use the speaker’s first name or even a nickname to make him or her seem more approachable.  There are many situations in which this will not be allowed so be sure to check.  Some good questions to gather personal information to spice up your introduction are:  “How did you end up in this role?”  “Was this your dream job when you were 21?”  “What’s your favorite part of the job/topic”  “When you are not doing X, where or on what do you spend your time?”

3.  Write it down, then practice out loud

It is important that you have the introduction on paper.  Practice by reading your text out loud several times.  Since you do not want to read every word in real time, this stand-and-deliver practice will help you sound more comfortable – as if you actually knew the speaker personally.  Borrowing from the ancient Greeks, keep the following elements in mind:

Why this person?  Why this topic?  What can the audience expect to hear?

Good luck!

– Barbara

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