It's been said that the introduction of a speaker serves the same purpose as a social introduction. Unfortunately, most social introductions consist of bare necessities, such as "I'd like you to meet Joe." But, ideally, a social introduction should accomplish several things: It should bring the people together, establish a friendly atmosphere, and create a bond of interest. And that's only the starting point for what the introduction of a speaker is all about.
Here are some of the things you should consider:
Keeping these purposes in mind, here are several suggestions for making introductions that will help and not hinder the speaker:
But not too brief - just long enough to get the job done. Then quit. You are not the speaker. You are a sign-post, pointing to the feature. So point and then get out of the way. As someone so aptly put it:
"My sympathy lies with the speaker
Whose knees grow suddenly weaker
As the toastmaster's lengthy patter
Turns out to be the speaker's subject matter."
How long should an introduction be? A book about speaking written 40 years ago said four or five minutes. A book written 25 years ago said three minutes. A recent book stresses that an introduction should "hardly ever exceed one minute." We live in accelerated times! Once in a while, a longer introduction is in order, such as on formal occasions. But for the day-to-day common introduction, keep it to a minute or two.
In her book Speech Can Change Your Life, Dorothy Sarnoff notes, "It would be a rare person indeed whose introduction required more than three minutes. That's for heroes! Half that time is generally enough." In The Articulate Woman, Evelyn Oppenheimer notes that the most important man in the world is introduced in just a few seconds: "Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States."
Most programs have a variety of elements. It's your job to help the audience shift gears by setting the tone for what is to come. Not only do you need to know what the speech is about, but also what approach it will take. Your demeanor should prepare the listeners for that approach.
Generally, this is not the time for a complete biographical sketch of the speaker. However, you will want to answer two questions: Who is the speaker and why was she invited to speak? Give a few facts about the speaker's life, major accomplishments and qualifications for speaking on the announced topic. As a rule of thumb, mention only information that relates to the occasion.
Do your homework. Learn all you can ahead of time about the speech and speaker. (Believe it or not, there are people who lean over to me just before I speak and ask, "What do you want me to say about you?")
Most experienced speakers will furnish you with a biographical sketch if asked ahead of time. Information on well- known speakers can be found in a "Who's Who" volume related to their field of expertise. Facts about lesser known people can be gleaned by interviewing their friends and co-workers.
Once you have your facts, memorize the essential data. If you're unsure how to pronounce a name or word, don't try to fake it: Look it up or ask the speaker. Above hard-to-pronounce words, write a phonetic pronunciation that you understand. Practice saying difficult words out loud several times.
There are few things more boring than bare facts about a speaker read from a card. Remember the analogy used earlier: you are introducing one friend to a group of friends. Find out what makes the speaker interesting. Perhaps you can talk to a friend, relative or coworker. If appropriate and not distracting to the speaker, try to have a few minutes of conversation before the presentation to get to know her better.
Then deliver your introduction with enthusiasm and spontaneity, glancing only briefly at your notes. You may have worked long and hard on your brief message, but now is the time to make it sound "off the cuff."
Humor can, of course, make an introduction more interesting. But humor is a two-edged sword that can harm if not used properly.
Don't apply a joke to a speaker if it doesn't fit. Program chairpersons have introduced me as a former football coach, as someone who was once stranded on a South-Sea island, or as someone who was once in serious trouble with the law, simply because they happened to have some jokes about these subjects. This can be embarrassing!
And keep your praise of the speaker believable, too. Don't get carried away. Don't give your speaker an impossible hill to climb. Let the listeners form their own opinion. It is especially disastrous to tell the audience how tremendously funny the speaker is. Humorist Tom Collins notes that when the introducer compares you to one of the better- known comics of the day, "you might as well cut your wrists and go home, because you are ruined."
Let's assume that you've done your homework and are determined to avoid the pitfalls discussed here. The next question: How to organize the material?
Many writers recommend some variation of this formula: (1) Why this subject (2) before this audience (3) by this speaker? The Dale Carnegie approach uses the T-I-S formula: Topic (briefly explained), Importance (to the audience), Speaker (qualifications and name). Some authors suggest 3x5 cards formatted with basic facts listed along the left-hand side; preparation then becomes a matter of filling in the blanks.
Such approaches are helpful reminders of what kind of information is needed. But don't follow them slavishly. You not only need to ask, "What is the purpose of an introduction in general?" but "What should I accomplish in this particular introduction?" Adapt any formula to attain that end.
So much for preparing the introduction. Now to the delivery. The need for enthusiasm and apparent spontaneity have already been mentioned, but a few other things should be considered as well.
If you get a chance, give the speaker a cue so she knows when you are finished with your introduction. It's a common faux pas when, in the middle of the introduction, the introducer mentions the speaker's name followed by a dramatic pause, whereupon the speaker rises and starts to speak. As a result, many writers suggest that the speaker's name only be given once - at the close of the introduction. Again, there are no hard and fast rules. I sometimes start and close with the speaker's name. But be warned that if you plan on using the speaker's name more than once in your remarks, you need to clearly indicate when you are turning over the microphone.
The climax of your introduction should come when you give the speaker's name at the close of your remarks. Just a reminder: Emphasize the person's name. Pause, give the first name, pause slightly and then reveal the last name - all of this with vigor and force. Here's what not to do: Don't turn to the speaker before you finish giving the name. The audience might not hear the speaker's name. After you reveal the name, turn to the speaker with a smile. Then, if appropriate, start the applause and remain standing until the speaker reaches the lectern.
The novice introducer faces one more question: What to do when the speaker finishes speaking? Beware of extremes. Say too little and it will appear that the effort was not appreciated; say too much and you detract from the presentation.
In most circumstances, the following approach is sufficient:
(1) Start the applause, if appropriate.
(2) Thank the speaker.
(3) Express appreciation for the speech. Avoid classifying the speech as "good," "great," or "the best I ever heard." Each listener will have his own opinion on that. How else can you express appreciation? A safer way is to briefly mention some point made by the speaker that impressed you. This is a sincere form of flattery. Beware, however, of the temptation of "half-soleing" the talk (reviewing it at length, adding your own editorial comments).
(4) A second round of applause usually will be appropriate. Then get on to other things.
There's a strange thing about introductions. When they are done right, few people notice...because they do what they are supposed to do: Put the spotlight on the speaker. It's only when they are done poorly that most people notice. As a result, when you do a great job introducing someone, chances are no one is going to tell you so. But the one being introduced will appreciate it, whether she says so or not. And - perhaps best of all - you will know you've done a good job!
If the introductory remarks were serious, you can use the "thank you" sandwich: a sentence or two on why you are glad to be there, sandwiched between two "thank you's." For instance: "Thank you for the opportunity to be with you this evening. I always enjoy visiting the Rotary Club. Your organization has a illustrious history of unselfish service to the community. So, again my thanks for being asked to speak."
The overly flattering introduction poses a special challenge. Usually, the best thing is to humorously depreciate yourself and then start your prepared speech. Jack Benny's standard response to a glowing introduction was, "I don't really deserve that...but then I have bursitis and I don't deserve that either...so I guess it all evens out." Ira North, one of the most popular preachers in Nashville, Tennessee, generally responded with a big grin and a down-south drawl: "What a mahhhvelous introduction...May the Lord forgive Brother Smith for that introduction...and may He forgive me for believing every word of it!"
The well-known minister Harry Emerson Fosdick graciously responded to one invitation this way: "There isn't a word of truth in those kind remarks, but thank God for the rumor."
Other possible responses are given in the sidebar. I hope you'll find at least one you can use.
An experienced speaker can respond to any type of introduction - good, bad or indifferent. A friend of mine once received an extremely poor introduction, one that was embarrassing to all present. As he rose to speak, he could feel the tension in the air. He said, with a smile, "Thank you. That introduction was so much better than the last time I spoke. Just before I got up to speak, the man who introduced me turned to me and said, 'Are you ready to speak?...Or should we let everyone enjoy themselves awhile longer?'" Everyone laughed, the tension was broken, and he started his presentation.
The experienced speaker will always have several responses in mind, so he can pull one that is appropriate to the occasion and to the way he was introduced. But whatever response you use, it should sound spontaneous.
You may even want to start a file or notebook of good responses. Learn to adapt ideas so that they fit you. Be sure to keep track of which responses you use on what occasion, so you can avoid repeating them before the same audience.
If you want to develop a reputation for being a good speaker, you will give considerable thought to the matter of responding to introductions. Remember: You never get a second chance to change the audience's first impression.
Granted, many introductions leave a lot to be desired. But while the outcome may be less than perfect, most people assigned to introduce someone usually take some time to prepare for their responsibility. Speakers, on the other hand, often give absolutely no advance thought to their response to the introduction. Which means their first words to the audience, those words that make a vital first impression, are improvised and often inappropriate.
Typical responses range from "That was nice; thanks" to "Aw shucks; I don't deserve that!" If it is true that speakers either grab an audience or lose it in the first few seconds they speak, they have to do better than that.
One can, of course, ignore the introduction and plunge straight into the talk. In fact, some well-known speakers take this route. While this solves the problem of having to improvise a response, the practice can smack of being a poor guest. If you are important enough, you might get away with it. But most of us are not that important; we have to consider the impression we make.
The problems of the one being introduced are similar to those of the one doing the introduction. If you say nothing in response to the introduction, you will seem inappreciative (especially if the introduction was complimentary, as most are). If you say too much, you detract from your presentation. In general, a sentence or two that reflect the spirit of the introduction are enough. If the introduction was sentimental, serious or humorous, respond in kind. Then proceed immediately with your speech.
"Thanks. You read that just as I wrote it. Except you left out the word, 'handsome.'"
"After an introduction like that, I can hardly wait to hear what I'm going to say."
"I wish my mother were here. Not only would she appreciate an introduction like that...she would believe it."
"That great introduction reminds me of what my mother said about perfume: It's okay to smell it as long as you don't swallow it."
"I'm overwhelmed. I feel like the widow who listened to the preacher's eulogy and then whispered to one of her children, 'Run up there and make sure that's your daddy in that box!"
"The last time anyone said anything that nice about me was back in 19__ when I was the first child in kindergarten to tie my own shoes."
"After an introduction like that, I think I had better quit while I'm ahead...so good night...(Start to walk out and then come back)...Now for my follow-up speech" (or, if appropriate, "my encore").
"That's the second best introduction I ever received. The best was when the emcee didn't arrive and I had to do it myself."
"That was great, (name of introducer)! What would you charge to travel around with me and introduce me everywhere I go?"
"I'm not really as good as he said...but neither am I as bad as my mother-in-law thinks...so I guess it averages out."