TOPIC: Have you been asked to introduce someone who is the speaker or honoree at an event? What are the do’s and don’ts you should follow to come across as a pro and enhance your image?
If you have a sizable professional-social network, sooner or later you’ll be asked to come up to the podium at an business, association or personal event – possibly as a speaker, or perhaps as the person who introduces the speaker. Option #2 is the one we’ll address.
Seems simple enough: just say a few kind words about the keynote speaker or the honorees. Not so fast! This honor you’ve received can be trickier than first meets the eye. On the one hand, you have the opportunity to put your best foot forward, to get face time and name-in-the-dinner-program exposure to a valuable assemblage of influential people. On the other hand, you may join the graveyard of discarded speakers who have fumbled, muttered, overstepped, made a joke-too-far, or run out the clock.
Getting Started: You’ve got to know the lay of the land and your audience. If you received the request second-hand and received scant information, as you respond to accept the offer, ask the chairperson of the event (but never the “honorary chair”) or someone on the event committee to fill you in. Ask the honoree directly if it is someone you are quite close to. What is the event’s purpose? How does this speaker/honoree fit that, why was he/she chosen? Who will be there? What venue? Is it a public event or closed invitation list? Formal or informal attire? Is the person you are to introduce a keynote speaker or a secondary speaker, the main honoree or one honoree among five? Given those answers, would a one minute or a five minute introduction be better? Let those answers also guide the tone of your remarks and emotional pitch.
Make sure to get the invitation, and ask for an advance copy of the printed dinner program if possible. (Will there be a bio in the printed program describing the speakers/honorees?)
Get the individual’s official biography from an assistant or company website or LinkedIn profile. Make sure it’s not a stale bio; (what if you mention his wife, only to learn that they were divorced last year?) Do you know the person you’re introducing very well or just casually, from a distance? Is the person a peer or higher than you in status?
If it’s someone who is close to you and not much higher in status, you have a bit more license to be casual in tone. It’s okay to introduce your own personality – just a little, to be warm and somewhat personal. But in all cases, don’t risk giving offense; your remarks should be respectful.
DON’T tell a joke that could make some people in the audience squirm. If you want to say something funny at the start, make it about yourself or something in the news that’s tied in, but very rarely should you joke about the honoree. Do not bring up the honoree’s foibles, failures (unless he made a comeback and is proud of it) or old romances. (If you have a funny remark that you think does work, run it by a friend for another take on whether it’s appropriate.)
DON’T start with a negative vibe. This is not supposed to be a painful assignment! Be yourself. Be conversational. If you hate to write and as a result your remarks come off sounding like a school essay, then don’t write it. Record your remarks into a tape recorder and then transcribe it. Revisit it another day to make sure it’s just right.
DON’T repeat the honoree’s official biography that you received. Don’t repeat the profile printed in the program (if there is one). No one wants to hear you list her last five positions and three universities attended. Be selective; what really matters to this audience?
Once at the podium, DON’T just read the remarks you’ve prepared. Memorize at least a few lines so you’re reading only parts of it.. (Use extra-large font sizes.) When you come to the part that really bonds the audience to this person, stop reading, pause and focus your attention on someone out there in the audience.
Now the DO’S
DO, if you know the speaker/honoree well or were chosen to make the introduction for a particular reason, let everyone know (unless the emcee already has relayed that to the audience.)
DO keep it short. Better to sit down before people glance at their watches. After all, they didn’t come to hear you.
DO, as you prepare your remarks, choose a few salient facts from the honoree’s bio. Then add value to it. You may want to call the honoree’s assistant or business partner …. to dig a little deeper, in an appropriate way. Find the story line for this person: what is moving about that story? what illuminates his character? Put the dry facts that you need to state in the beginning or middle; end on a strong, even emotional note.
DO remember that your job is not really to supply a list of the speaker’s or honoree’s achievements, but to prepare the audience to receive the speaker warmly, attentively, and approvingly. Your remarks should infuse the facts of the person’s life with meaning for the audience.
DO, if you are not yet a polished speaker, practice! Time your remarks. Read them aloud or to a colleague or family member. Put a little symbol into the print copy of your remarks to show you where to pause for effect. Modulate your tone and vary your pace. Slowing your delivery for key lines have the most impact. Rushing all your words sends the message that you lack confidence. And don’t ruin everything by failing to speak into the mike (after adjusting it to your height).
DO, if you have a personal anecdote to tell that reflects well on the honoree, use it – does it illuminate an interesting quality? But if you heard or read it second hand – verify first! If it’s a story that 80% of the audience probably heard before, look for something new.
DO be flexible. If the last three speakers went on for too long and people are yawning, be prepared to cut something out of your remarks (figure out in advance where that might be) – everyone will love you for it.
DO make sure the emcee who introduces YOU has the facts straight about how to pronounce your name, your position, etc. Back when you contacted the event chair or someone involved in the event, did you offer to send your bio or a link to inform them? Especially if your name is unpronounceable, be sure to introduce yourself to the emcee/master of ceremonies before the program gets underway.
DO, wait at the podium until the speaker whom you have introduced steps up, then exit quickly.
No doubt, I’ve left out a few good pointers. Please do chime in if you have more Do’s and Don’ts’s to add, or a good or awful experience to share on this topic.