The Importance of Introductions

by Speaking Tips | November 7, 2003

Knowing how to introduce a speaker is an important skill and although everyone is expected to be proficient, many of us are uncomfortable when asked to introduce a speaker.

In the middle of a particularly long and boring introduction, some of you have probably wondered, "Why not just let the speaker get up and start speaking?" Frankly, in comparison to some introductions I've witnessed, this would represent a significant improvement. Bad introductions have become so commonplace that introducers mistake them for the norm and the majority of people appear ignorant of the purpose and proper organization of introductions.

The Purpose of Introductions

The purpose of an introduction is twofold: (i) to gain the audience's attention, and (ii) to motivate the audience to listen attentively.

Members of the audience generally arrive individually and need to coalesce as a group. Frequently, they may have just come from listening to another presentation on a very different topic. They may be in the middle of a conversation with one or more colleagues or friends. They may be thinking about personal, family or business matters. As the introducer, it's your role to bring the audience together and focus their attention on the speaker.

Secondly, just because the audience is present, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are there to listen. Perhaps they came to be seen, to escape something else or to meet with another attendee. You can motivate an audience to listen by giving a preview of the speech from their perspective of the audience. Let them know what they will learn and how it will benefit them.

Organization and Preparation

Good introductions merge together three essential elements: (i) the speaker, (ii) the subject, and (iii) the audience. The order in which you choose to address these elements is generally unimportant. A common error is to focus solely on the speaker to the exclusion of the other two elements.

A key to a good introduction is preparation and practice (together with a healthy dose of enthusiasm). These need not take long once you understand how to go about them. Returning to our three essential elements, preparation involves learning about the speaker, the topical nature of the subject and the audience's interests and concerns. You should make an effort to approach the speaker for background information. Get audience background from members of the audience and subject information from the the speaker, the program organiser, relevant publications and your own research or other sources.

When approaching the speaker for background information, ask what they would like you to emphasize or what they think is most relevant. Some speakers prefer to write out their own introduction. If a speaker provides a lengthy pre-prepared introduction, you should not feel obligated to use it all. Instead, pick out the things that will connect the speaker with the subject and audience.

Write out your introduction and practice it in front of a mirror. You may also find it helpful to use a tape recorder so that you listen to yourself and better judge and practice the speed and tone of your delivery. Once you are throroughly familiar with your material, reduce it to a few key words and phrases which you can transfer to a sheet of paper and bring with you. This will be your standby in the case of a mental freeze, but if you have properly prepared and practices you will almost certainly not need it.

And finally ...

Remember to welcome the speaker to the podium or lectern with a friendly smile and handshake. You are aiming for continuity not a disconnect. Simply finishing your introduction and leaving the podiumor lecturn empty will do just that.

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