The Importance of Introductions
Knowing how to introduce a speaker is an important skill in our
professional and personal lives. Everyone is expected to be proficient
but most are not. Are you comfortable when asked to introduce a speaker?
It is more likely you are nervous and a bit uneasy about what is
expected. Does it feel like an opportunity?
Why not just let the speaker get up and start speaking? (Sometimes
that idea has crossed my mind in the middle of a long, dull, and droning
introduction covering every achievement in the life of the speaker and
frankly, it might be an improvement.) Why are so many introductions such
a drag? Bad introductions are so common that introducers mistake them
for the norm and most people are ignorant of the purpose and
organization of introductions.
The purpose of an introduction is to gain the audience's attention.
Members of the audience arrive individually and need to coalesce as a
group. The audience may have just come from listening to another speaker
on a totally different topic and are still mulling over the ideas. They
may be in the middle of an interesting conversation with a friend. They
may be thinking about modifying their own speech scheduled for later in
A secondary purpose is to motivate the audience to listen. Just
because the audience is there doesn't mean the are ready to listen.
Maybe they came to be seen, take a brief nap or escape something else.
You can motivate by giving a preview of the speech from the perspective
of the audience. Let them know "What's In It for Me"--narrow
the gap between the audience and the lectern.
Organization & Preparation
How is a good introduction organized? Introductions fuse three
elements: the subject, the audience and the speaker. The order of the
elements is not important, either can come first or last. The important
thing to remember is that the focus is not solely on the speaker, it is
on bringing together the three elements so they open a window.
What do you need to do to craft a good introduction? The answer is
prepare, practice and be enthusiastic. These need not take long once you
understand what you are doing and why. Preparation involves learning
about the speaker, the topical nature of the subject and the audience's
interests and concerns. Get speaker information from the speaker. Get
audience background from members of the audience and subject information
from the Program Chair, the related current awareness media or your own
When you ask for information, ask what the speaker would like you to
emphasize or what the speaker thinks is relevant. Some seasoned speakers
prefer to write out their own introduction. (They have experienced too
many bum intros.) If a speaker provides a lengthy vitae, do not feel
obligated to use it all. Shift through and pick out the things that
connect the speaker with the subject and audience. In media parlance,
you are preparing a coming attraction "tease"--not a eulogy.
Write out your introduction. Practice it in front of a mirror or into
a tape recorder for timing. Hone it to sound natural and enthusiastic.
Reduce your written introduction to a few key words and phrases.
Transfer them, in large font, to a large sheet a paper. This will be
your crutch and because it is there you will probably not need to look
Fourteen Introduction Tips
- Know the speaker's name and how to pronounce it. If it is an
unusual name, help the audience learn it. "It rhymes
- Know the speaker's title or position. Do not turn and ask the
speaker "Is it Associate or Assistant Professor?"
- Be brief. Aim for between one and three minutes. Five minutes is
- Do not read the introduction. It will sound flat, unenthusiastic
and convey the impression that you are unfamiliar with the subject.
It is o.k. to bring notes to the lectern but keep them
- Smile and be enthusiastic in tone, gesture and choice of words.
- Know enough about the subject to sound knowledgeable. Do not turn
to the speaker and ask if the topic is epidemiology, epistemology or
- Announce the speech title as given to you by the speaker. If you
have any questions about it, ask the speaker before the
introduction. Many speakers select specific titles for a reason or
for a pun. If the speaker is not using a title, make sure that your
description matches the speakers.
- Introductions are no place to use slides, overheads or
- Anecdotes are good but should pertain to the subject and be in
harmony with the mood of the presentation. Avoid using canned jokes.
- If the credentials of the speaker are so outstanding that they
must be shared with the audience or if there are publications the
audience will want to know about, insert them in the program or
prepare a separate commemorative handout.
- Introduction of a panel of speakers is the same except the
introducer needs to describe the structure and format of the panel
(speaking order, length of time) and the various points of view and
perspectives of the panelists. The introduction of the individual
panelists can be done two ways: All at once or individually as the
panel program progresses. Most audiences prefer a handout with the
panelists' credentials so they can refer to it as the panel
- Never use the old cliche that the speaker needs no introduction.
If the introduction ties the speaker to the audience and the topic
then each introduction is unique, plus there is always something new
about every speaker.
- You are the catalyst, not the performer. Do not try to upstage the
speaker with your knowledge of the subject. Do not dwell on your
relationship with the speaker, even though he or she is your boss,
relative or significant other.
- Identify yourself by name and title, unless this has already been
earlier. Remember the speaker also needs to know who you are.
Three Introduction Templates
"Good evening. My name is...and I will be introducing tonight's
presentation. Our guest speaker has been called a... by Time magazine
and not supportive of our system of checks and balances, that she is
overly concerned with revolutionary tactics rather than working within
our current political system. Are those strange qualifications for a
speaker about to address this Conference of..., striving to work within
Ms....'s career has taken her through 25 years of study, research,
teaching and administration. She holds 3 advanced degrees in...and...
She has written numerous articles scientific and popular journals. As
Secretary of the...under the...administration, she has promulgated more
changes (as measured by pages in the Federal Register) to the
regulations relating to...than in the previous 100 years.
We are all familiar with some of the reasons that the...profession is
under attack. As a professional group, we are confronted with problems
for which we must take some responsibility. Our speaker tonight intends
to illuminate these problems and offer some innovative solutions. Please
join me in welcoming..."
"Good afternoon students. Today's class is a new format with a
guest speaker. We all need to know how to drive safely, because
statistically 10 out of the 40 of us here today will be involved in a
serious accident sometime during our life. If we reduce accidents we
save lives and lower the cost of insurance premiums--two things we are
all interested in.
Larry..., is the assistant director of the State Transportation
Safety Agency. He helped draft the first State legislation regarding
mandatory seat belts and air bags. He has worked as Claims Manager
for...Insurance Company. Larry has been a licensed driver since 16 and
has only been involved in one fender bender. He credits his good driving
record to having taken this class. His topic is "Arrive
Alive." Please help me welcome..."
"Ladies and Gentlemen, this audience has done more for the
homeless in our community than any other local group. We can be very
proud of our record. Our speaker this morning is well known to us. We
know him as...and...But how many of you know that he has a hobby of
raising turtles? He is President of the California Turtle and Tortoise
Club and Editor of the Tortuga Gazette. Joe says he has been fascinated
with the idea of carrying your house on your back since kindergarten.
Always having shelter is this morning's subject. Let's hear what Joe has
to say about "Back to Square One."
Related Introduction Thoughts
If you are the speaker, it is acceptable to write your own
introduction for the occasion. The introducer will be happy to have it
and it gives you an opportunity to expand your speech and personalize
your background in ways that you would be more comfortable with someone
When you are asked to speak and your introducer botches the
assignment, feel free to amend the introduction with pertinent items
yourself. "My interest in this subject stems from a recent
harrowing experience and that's what I want to talk about tonight so
that you will be better prepared than I was to face..." "Part
of my job as...is to...and it is that experience that qualifies me to be
I like to help welcome the speaker to the podium or lectern with a
friendly handshake. It disturbs me when I am in the audience and the
introducer leaves the lectern and turns his or her back on the speaker.
You are aiming for continuity not the big disconnect. Introductions are
like giving a gift. You wrap it in colorful paper and tie it with ribbon
to help create anticipation, excitement and a sense of the occasion. You
do not just shove a gift into the hands of the receiver with a terse
"Here" and walk off.