But nobody is squirming more uncomfortably than the speaker, who is listening to the equivalent of his premature obituary.
Approve Your Introduction
Speakers devote great attention to their keynote speeches or acceptance remarks — as well they should — but the first words on the stage come from someone else: the person introducing them. An introducer who is unprepared will end up reading every word in the speaker’s biography, often mispronouncing the speaker’s name.
It’s deadly boring to the audience because they don’t really care where you were born, how many degrees you’ve earned and the number of children you have.
Don’t let this happen to you. Make sure the words that welcome you to the podium set the stage for a winning performance.
Ask the conference organizer early on who will introduce you. Often this isn’t thought about until late in the planning process. Raising the question early shows you care and gives you or your speechwriter time to talk to the introducer.
Offer to write the introduction. The conference organizer will be grateful to accept your offer. You can then write a brief and compelling lead-in that best sets the stage for you and immediately engages the audience.
Talk to the introducer. You’ve been asked to speak for a reason. Use the introduction to set up “why you’re here” in a way that is genuinely flattering and specific to the organization and audience. Talk to the introducer, painting a picture of yourself as an interesting person so that he feels comfortable and excited about introducing you. Use action verbs and picture nouns. Devote as much attention to the quality of your introduction as your main remarks.
Include a pronunciation guide. If your name, home town, company name, or anything else in the introduction is other than plain vanilla, provide a phonetic or “sounds like” guide. Go over the pronunciation with the introducer right before the event begins.
Send it well in advance and bring a spare. After writing the introduction, format it for easy reading in a typeface such as Arial MT Rounded Bold 16 point – spaced 1.5 – with sufficient paragraph breaks for effective pauses. Send it to the conference organizer and the introducer at least a week in advance. And bring a spare hard copy with you in case they forget it.
Offer to write your bio for the program as well. Find out the desired word count and write your bio to fit. Tailor at least one sentence to connect your background experience and ongoing commitment to the sponsoring organization’s mission.
Personalize the introduction. Tell a story but don’t give away the important points in the talk. That’s the speaker’s job.
Here is the introduction of a husband and wife who gave the keynote address at a large industry health care conference. They shared their own personal journey in finding a treatment for their desperately ill child so that others could benefit from their experience. Note how the introducer paints a happy picture of the couple before relating the shocking development in their lives.
Kari and Tom Whitehead grew up in small towns in central Pennsylvania, 6 years and 30 miles apart, until Tom’s best friend set them up on a blind date. They married in 2001, and settled in Tom’s hometown of Philipsburg, PA near State College, where Tom is a lineman for First Energy. Kari, with degrees in nutrition science, is a project manager at the Penn State Survey Research Center. She is also a professional photographer. Tom has his private pilot’s license and enjoys scuba diving.
Tom and Kari’s daughter Emily, their only child, was born in 2005. In 2010, their life was turned upside down when Emily was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, which did not respond to chemotherapy.
Kari chronicled two years of treatment and setbacks in on-line journals. Emily had run out of options and was near death. Kari and Tom decided on a clinical trial involving gene therapy using T-cells. Although the treatment had never before been tried on a child it was successful in attacking Emily’s cancer. But it had other life-threatening complications.
Through extraordinary care by doctors, nurses, clinical data manager… through the support and prayers of many friends and followers… and through her own indomitable spirit, Emily recovered and has been cancer free for two years now.
Kari and Tom are indebted to all those who made a difference, and, together with Emily, they frequently participate in events to raise awareness and funds for childhood cancer.
Please join me in welcoming Kari and Tom Whitehead. . .
After writing your own introduction, read it out loud. Does it represent who you are? Does it adequately give a reason why you’re there as a speaker? Will it “grab” the audience so they are eager to hear more?
If you answered “yes” to these questions, then you are on your way to delivering a speech that will not only be memorable, but also persuade the audience to accept your ideas, invest in your company, or buy your company’s products.
Marie Lerch is President of Executive Scribe, LLC, specializing in writing executive communications, speeches, and financial communications for top management and senior business leaders. Prior to starting her own firm, Marie was Vice President responsible for firmwide marketing and communications for Booz Allen Hamilton, the leading management and technology consulting firm.