The 3 P's of Introductions
Prepare the audience, prepare the speaker and prepare yourself.
Bill stood in front of the audience to introduce the speaker:
"Tonight's speaker is without a doubt the world's greatest speaker. He will have you rolling in the aisles because he is such a funny guy. Speaking of funny, I heard this great rhyme yesterday. It goes 'Roses are red, violets are blue, I'm schizophrenic, and so am I.' Ha-ha . Well, I know Jim isn't a 'schitzo' because he and I go way back. Yes, I remember when I used to date his little sister. Ha-ha. I remember once when we double-dated to a high school dance. Do you remember that, Jim? Oh boy, those were the days. Well, it says here that Jim is going to speak on the topic, "The Tragedy of Alcoholism." And he should know: He used to drink like a fish. Ha-ha. So, Jim, why don't you come up here and tell us a good story or two?"
Fortunately, Bill and his introduction are fictitious. Unfortunately, we often hear introductions that have some of the problems that this example demonstrates. How can we avoid these problems? Prepare, prepare, prepare. These are the three P's of introducing. They sound the same, but each is distinct and important to remember when introducing a speaker.
Reread Bill's introduction. How many problems can you find? First, Bill's introduction didn't meet the primary purpose of any introduction, the first of the three P's:
Prepare the audience to hear this speaker give this speech. Bill didn't explain why Jim was the right person to give this speech. He didn't mention that Jim is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous and that he is chairman of a local group attempting to educate the community about the tragedies of alcoholism. If Bill had, the audience would have been more prepared to hear Jim's speech. They would have regarded Jim as someone who had personal experience and a real commitment to his topic.
Bill also set the wrong tone for the speech. Did you chuckle, smile or groan when you read the introduction? So did the audience. Jim's topic was a serious one, but Bill made an attempt at a humorous introduction. As a result, the audience wasn't prepared for a serious subject, so they laughed at the joke and they laughed when Jim announced the speech's title. Many people were expecting a parody or a humorous talk about AA. Jim was forced to alter the beginning of his talk to help the audience transition from a humorous tone to the more serious topic he wanted to deal with.
Another problem: To prepare the audience, an introduction must be concise - without extraneous information. I once attended a conference banquet at which the master of ceremonies presented a long list of the speaker's accomplishments, most of which had nothing to do with the evening's topic. The introduction continued for 15 to 20 minutes - so long that when the speaker finally had a chance to begin, she had to remind us of the reason she was there.
So neither this master of ceremonies' introduction, nor Bill's introduction, satisfied the first of the three P's. They also failed to satisfy the second, which is:
Prepare the speaker to give the speech. Most of us would have hated to be poor Jim, standing to present a speech after Bill's introduction. We certainly would not have been prepared to give the speech. For one thing, the introduction prejudged Jim's quality as a speaker. Such terms as "the greatest speaker" or "a very funny guy" puts pressure on a speaker to meet those expectations. This pressure doesn't make the speaker feel very relaxed and comfortable.
The introducer's primary responsibility is to help the speaker feel comfortable by convincing the audience that this speaker has the credentials to speak on this topic. No matter how great a speech you expect, focus on explaining the speaker's qualifications concerning the topic, not as a speaker.
In his introduction, Bill committed another error counter-productive to preparing the speaker to speak: He brought attention to himself rather than to Jim. He tried to impress the audience with his talents instead of, and at the expense of, Jim's. He also showed a great deal of insensitivity to others, a particularly unfortunate occurrence in view of the topic of Jim's speech. An introduction should establish the speaker's credentials, not serve as a stage for the introducer, or worse, leave the audience looking for the exits.
It makes me uncomfortable when the person introducing me as a speaker makes statements that are not believable, or otherwise draw attention to himself. This discomfort diverts my positive energy away from the speech that I am about to give and replaces it with concern about the audience's mood.
A good introduction has another important characteristic that prepares a speaker to present his or her speech: a sharp transition between the introduction and the speech itself. When the person giving the introduction uses a distinct transition, the speaker's adrenaline starts to flow and he or she feels like jumping up and getting started. A sloppy "come on up here, Jim" doesn't flip that internal switch in the speaker's mind. It is better to state the title of the speech and then say something like, "Help me to welcome Jim Johnson." This approach makes it easier for the speaker and for the audience to move from the introduction to the speech.
Bill made it easy for himself instead of for Jim and the audience. Bill's introduction was easy to give because it took almost no preparation. And here is the third P:
Prepare yourself to give the introduction. Talk to the I speaker prior to the speech - before the day of the speech if possible. Get to know the speaker, particularly in areas that relate to the speech topic. Ask specific questions that will help steer the conversation toward the information you need for the introduction. Use this time with the speaker to acquire more than enough information to enable you to accomplish the first two P's.
But while imparting relevant information during the introduction, don't give the speech away. In talking to the speaker, make sure you know what is all right for you to say and what the speaker himself or herself would prefer to say, perhaps for a reason such as shock effect.
Be cautious, too, about using a "canned" introduction that the speaker may give you. It can be tempting to save yourself the trouble of preparing an introduction. But a generic introduction will sound like just that and often will not have the information you should include.
Here's an example of how using a speaker's canned introduction can get you into trouble. Once when I was Toastmaster of a club meeting, a speaker gave me an index card with his introduction he had written. On this occasion I hadn't prepared properly, so I was relieved just to read his card.
The speaker was planning a humorous speech and so had tried to add some humor to the introduction. At one point the card read - and therefore I said - "His wife deserves most of the credit for his success." That was the speaker's opinion and meant to be humorous, but when I read it, the audience took it as my opinion and a put-down for the speaker. If you adhere to the third "P," you won't use canned introductions, particularly those given to you just before the speech, because by then you will already have your introduction thoroughly planned and prepared.
If Bill had satisfied the three P's, his introduction of Jim might have been more like this:
"Our speaker tonight is Jim Johnson. Introducing Jim is special for me because he and I have been friends for a very long time and because I know how important this topic is to him. Jim is a member of the local Alcoholics Anonymous and has held many positions of leadership in that organization. But he told me that his current position is one that he considers the most important in his life. That position is the chairman of a group sponsored by AA and several other community organizations tasked with improving the community's understanding of alcoholism and its effects. In his talk he intends to explain those effects through relating some of his personal experiences as an alcoholic and as the friend and relative of other alcoholics. The title of his talk today is "The Tragedy of Alcoholism." Please help me to welcome Jim Johnson."
Many special situations require special considerations when giving introductions. However, in every case, if you use common sense and adhere to the three P's, you'll give an effective introduction.
Remember the three P's of introducing: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare.