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Introducing Your Next Speaker–Rough, Ruinous, or Rousing?

by Dianna Booher

As CEO, you’re frequently called on to introduce someone—a celebrity for your big client event of the year, an industry guru for your management meeting, a politician for a community gathering.  Whatever the occasion, you never want to be that person who disappoints the speaker, confuses the crowd, and embarrasses yourself.

As I sat in the audience at a recent industry conference, I watched a painful, but all-too-familiar, situation unfold:  The introducer was obviously unfamiliar with the comments she intended to deliver. She simply walked to the front of the room, unfolded her sheet of paper, and began to read—very slowly in a “See Jane run; see Dick run” manner. The introductions dragged on so long that the two co-presenters turned red-faced, then averted their eyes, then ducked their heads and began to squirm.

Big sigh of relief from the audience when she finished.

Not infrequently as in this case, someone fumbles with a RUINOUS introduction—one that:

  • Gives no information at all about the topic
  • Is delivered poorly (usually read and stumbled through as if seen for the first time)
  • Lasts too long
  • Mangles the speaker’s name—or sometimes even omits the speaker’s name!

All too often, the crowd hears a ROUGH introduction—one that:

  • Steals the speaker’s message by summarizing the key point
  • Sounds insincere
  • Rambles on too long (includes the speaker’s entire biography)

Ideally, you’ll want to deliver a ROUSING introduction—one that:

  • Introduces the topic very briefly and tells why the audience should care
  • Establishes why the speaker is qualified to speak on the topic
  • Helps the audience “connect” with the speaker
  • Encourages the audience to give a warm and enthusiastic welcome

Clearly and correctly states the speaker’s name

So when introducing a speaker, how do you deliver the rousing introduction?

Understand the topic—not just the title.  Clever titles sometimes tease but don’t always tell exactly what the speaker plans to cover. It’s your job to talk with the speaker beforehand to ensure that you know the general idea and can introduce the subject properly.

Tell audience members why they should care. What key questions will the speaker answer?  What takeaways will they have for investing their time for the next 20, 30, 45, or 60 minutes?  Just be careful that you don’t go on too long on the subject and “steal the thunder” from your speaker. Plan to give a teaser, but not the total show and tell.

Establish credentials for the speaker on the current topic. Your audience wants to know that the speaker is qualified to speak on this topic. But this is not the place to comment on everything the speaker has ever accomplished—but to establish the person’s authority on this specific topic: Why this? Why now?

Tossing in something personal—if appropriate—to connect the speaker to the audience.  Has the speaker gone through a similar restructure at his or her organization? Are the speaker originally from your state? Did you love the speaker’s sense of humor at dinner the night before?

Encourage a warm welcome.  That may mean leading the audience in applause as you welcome the speaker to the stage (if you’re in a live meeting). If you’re on a teleconference, you may suggest a verbal greeting or other onscreen comment.

Say the speaker’s name at the very end of the introduction—and pronounce it correctly. If the name is unusual, write it out phonetically for yourself. Or create a rhyme or another memory aid so you can say it correctly. (For example, Dianna Booher. The “h” is silent.  Boo-er. It rhymes with “doer” as in “She’s not a talker, she’s a doer.”)

Ruinous, rough, or rousing?  As with so many things, the result depends on preparation.

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