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how to introduce a speaker

One of our clients asked us to help with the introduction of the keynote speaker for an annual event. He was to be introduced by the board chair, a personable and funny guy who tended to ramble and shoot from the hip. The client didn’t want to take a chance on losing the audience’s attention before the main event. 

At first blush this seemed like an easy enough task.  Yet it led us to dig deeper and learn more about the affect and effect of introductions.   We thought we’d pass on some of our lessons in case you find yourself with the job.

Whoever draws the short straw and has to introduce a keynote, or acknowledge board members, or stroke any other notables in the room is the one who sets the stage and the tone. The opening can make all the difference, turning a lethargic audience into one that’s looking forward to what’s coming instead of losing them to texting friends on their cell phones.  The opening can punch home the message or leave the audience bored and disengaged.


Tip 1: Cut to the Bone

At ForAffect we’re always reminding our clients to talk less and say more.  When introducing a speaker, your intro will be more powerful if it’s less than 2 minutes long.  While there are exceptions, and you may think 2 minutes is a super short time, even the reluctant can either go on and on or not say enough of the right stuff.  Time yourself and keep it brief. 


Tip 2: Do Your Homework

We spoke to a friend who has an impressive international reputation as a speaker, author and consultant. Her britches are big in her field, and when it’s her turn to introduce someone she spends time researching both their personal and professional background. She ALWAYS puts in the time.  

We tend to underestimate the importance of the job, so intros are off the cuff, or, even worse, rely on reading a resume or CV.  Instead, try asking the speaker a couple of questions ahead of time: 

  • What’s unique about your approach to this topic?

  • What’s one life experience that’s shaped your career?

  • What’s something about you that the audience would never guess?

Use the info in your intro!


Tip 3: Know Your Audience

  • What are they coming for?

  • What’s their main interest in attending?

  • How well is the speaker known to them?

Here’s the start of an introduction for Dr. Beverly Kaye, a well-known author and leader in the field of Career Development. The audience knew her reputation, so the host led with this:

If this was a normal introduction, I would tell you all about Bev’s many books, her countless presentations, her plethora of awards, her work and academic history, her founding of Career Systems International, and her stellar client list.   But this is not a normal introduction.  This is a much more personal introduction …

In this case reminding the audience of the speaker’s credentials needed less airtime. Ask yourself what balance between professional and personal information is right for the audience? 


Tip 3: Foreshadowing

A wonderful way to introduce the speaker and intrigue the audience is to foreshadow the speaker’s message in your own words.

Consider beginning by posing a rhetorical question like

  • How many of you are struggling with the question…?

  • Have you ever wondered why …?

Sarah has grappled with these questions and more. She has  unique answers drawn from her extensive research andher own personal experience.

The first few words out of your mouth will either capture the audience or not. Make those words count!  It’s your job to set the tone. What is the connection between the speaker and your event? What is the critical take-away message? At the end of the day you want the audience to walk away with what it is you want them to know about the speaker.

And finally, whatever you do, avoid these absolute No-No’s

  • Don’t read your intro! Especially a long list of the speaker’s credentials. Your audience will tune out before you’ve gotten to the first honorary degree or impressive publication.

  • Don’t oversell. “Jane is the most brilliant speaker on the circuit. You will hang on her every word!” This puts too much pressure on Jane, who can never live up to your praise. Let the audience draw it’s own conclusions.

  • Don’t wing it. Know as much as you can about the speaker, the audience and what the speaker plans to say before you open your mouth.

  • Don’t start with a joke unless it’s relevant and the punch line is directly about your topic, the speaker, or about you and your role. And it better be funny.

Rachel ZahnComment