A Nice Applause For Whatshername

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The introduction can be a rip-roaring beginning to a presentation, or it can be disastrous.

Sometimes those few remarks that are meant to "bring you on" can bring you down. Here's how I was introduced once as the keynoter at a convention: "Ladies and gentlemen, our only speaker tonight will be Gene_Parret. The rest of the evening will be entertainment."

It wasn't the most humiliating introducation I've ever received, though. One woman who was scheduled to introduce me dined with me at the head table before the after-dinner speeches began. She was thrilled that I worked in a glamorous place, Hollywood, and worked in an exciting industry, television. She asked me during the meal, "Do you know some of the stars?" I told her I did. She wanted to know if I knew the gossip about them. Again, I confessed that I would often hear inside information about the celebrities.

She made this the highlight of her very brief, but powerful introduction. "Ladies and gentlemen, we're now going to hear the dope from Hollywood."

Unfortunately, I then stood up and proved her right.

One of the most succinct and honest introductions I ever heard was when the master of ceremonies announced, "Our speaker tonight needs no introduction...because he hasn't shown up yet." And he never did.

When you're chosen to bring on a speaker, remember that the introduction can be a rip-roaring beginning to a presentation, or it can be disastrous. Following are 10 hints that can make your audience appreciate your comments and ensure that the speaker is sincere when she says, "Thank you for a wonderful introduction."

Know your speaker's name and how to pronounce it. People are very proud of their name and they expect you to be proud of it too. Be sure you get the person's correct name and rehearse it so that when the time comes to announce that name, you don't hesitate or wonder if you're saying it correctly.

When Bob Hope was a young, unknown vaudevillian, he complained to the theater manager about his introduction. The manager asked what was wrong. Hope said, "You keep introducing me as George Hope." The manager said, "So, what's your name?" Hope said, "Bob Hope." The manager said, "So, who knows?"

Another time the master of ceremonies didn't get Hope's name wrong. He did worse than that. Hope was to appear on a cruise ship that was in port. An executive of the cruise line assigned himself the honor of introducing the comedian. I stood backstage with Bob Hope as this gentleman, unschooled in showmanship or public speaking, recited a glowing litany of Hope's accomplishments. He ended by saying, "Without further ado, let's bring him out here."

Hope didn't go onstage. He grabbed a backstage microphone and said into it, "I'm not coming out until you mention my name."

So know your speaker's name. Know how to pronounce it. And be sure to include it.

Do your research. Find out pertinent information about your speaker, then double-check those facts. Like Santa Claus, you should make a list and check it twice. I wrote for comedienne and actress Carol Burnett for five years. However, if you listen to the intros I've received over the years, you'll note that I've written for Carol Burnett, Carol Channing, Carrol O'Connor, J. Carroll Naish and any other celebrity with any version of Carol in his or her name...or who knows anyone with Carol in his or her name.

I've received three Emmys during my career, but again, my intros will inform you that I've won the Academy Award, the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize, the Congressional Medal of Honor, and finished "Best of Show" twice in the American Kennel Show.

Your speaker is proud of his or her accomplishments, but make sure you're announcing only his or her achievements. Your introduction should be well-written, but it should definitely be non-fiction.

Include what the speaker wants you to include and omit what the speaker wants you to omit. Ask the person you're about to introduce which biographical facts they'd like to have mentioned and which ones they'd rather not. Bob Hope was very aware of how important the introduction was to his rapport with the audience. At one engagement, the emcee insisted on touting Bob Hope as a living legend. Hope disapproved of this because it seemed too self-serving. An announcement like that made it awkward for him to approach his audience as a down-to-earth guy. Bob asked the emcee to cut that phrase from his intro. The guy said, "But Bob, you are a living legend. Why don't you want me to say it?" Hope said, "Because it puts me in a higher tax bracket."

From then on, the introduction was a tad more modest.

If the speaker has a prepared introduction, read it as is. Many speakers write out their own introductions. They do it to prevent disastrous blunders like the ones I listed earlier, but also because it may serve as a preamble to their presentation. Often they will have items in their speech that refer back to and depend on the scripted introduction. As the masterof ceremonies, you owe your speaker that courtesy.

Avoid, too, the temptation to ad-lib. Adding your own remarks is not reading the intro "as is," and it very well might destroy whatever setup the speaker had intended for the intro.

I once heard an emcee read a prepared statement and then close with a witty ad-lib to the speaker: "I hope I read that just the way your wrote it." Very clever, but it ruined the speaker's opening line, which was (or would have been), "That was a wonderful introduction. It should have been. I wrote it myself."

Don't give the speaker's talk for him or her. Bring the presenter to the microphone and let the speaker present the talk. The job of the emcee is simply to list the credentials of the speaker and perhaps add a bit of excitement and anticipation for the talk to come. It's counterproductive to give away what the talk is going to be about.

I once had a person introduce me by saying, "I sure hope that Gene tells the stories where Phyllis Diller gets a broken arm from a misprint in a book and where Bob Hope says, 'Here he comes now.'" These were two amusing anecdotes in my talk that were now rendered useless because this person gave away the punch lines.

Erma Bombeck once told about a person who introduced her by quoting some of her most famous lines. She said that she had her notes on index cards and the master of ceremonies just told her five opening jokes. She said, "I didn't know what to do with those index cards then... except maybe to try to slash my wrists with them."

Talk about the speaker; not about yourself...or anyone else. I'm sure you've heard intros like this: "I first heard this gentleman speak when I attended the national convention in Detroit. I wasn't going to go to the banquet because I was busy preparing my acceptance speech since I was voted "Salesman of the Year" at that convention. But I thought I might learn something from him that I could use in my acceptance speech..." and so on it goes.

The speaker should be the focus here, not the person introducing the speaker.

Avoid creating impossible demands on the speaker. You know how you hear so much about a good movie that by the time you get to see it, it's not as good as you expected it to be? It was over-hyped. That can happen when you introduce the presenter as "The funniest man in the world" or recite similar outlandish promises. Sometimes a great speech can be disappointing simply because it's not as good as the introduction guaranteed it would be.

Keep your remarks to a reasonable length. Certainly give the speaker her due. Present her credentials, but do it concisely. You want the audience to be eager to hear this speaker, not tire of her before she even comes on stage.

I listened to one emcee who went on and on...and on and on. When the speaker finally got to the microphone, she began by saying, "In conclusion...."

Keep the speaker's introduction pure. Your speaker deserves a few remarks that are reserved just for his or her presentation. It's unfair to include them among other items on the agenda.

One time, the president of an association began my introduction, but interrupted it to announce that the secretary of the association was resigning because.... Then she started crying. Another person took over and announced that the secretary had to resign because of serious health problems; then she broke down in tears. The entire head table started bawling and a few of them hugged the retiring secretary who apparently was in very bad medical shape. When the tears subsided somewhat, the emcee announced, "Now here's Gene_Parret to share a few laughs."

Prepare your remarks. You may be a brilliant extemporaneous speaker, but this is your presenter's moment. Spend some time preparing your remarks and have at least a mental outline of what you're going to say.

"Sometimes a great speech can be disappointing simply because it's not as good as the introduction guaranteed it would be."

I once heard a humorist talking about one of his presentations. Apparently, his talk didn't go too well but he blamed it all on the person who brought him on. He said, "That guy was so bad that half way into my talk, people started to walk out on the introduction."

Don't let them ever say that about you.

By Gene_Parret

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