Taking a concept form the performing arts industry, as the master of ceremonies you are the warm up act! Your role is to build excitement so that your audience can’t wait to hear what the person you are introducing has to say.
Here are some tips & techniques to ensure your next speaker introductions are delivered professionally.
Preparation is the key to success. If you are introducing a professional or very experienced speaker they may provide you with a script in advance that they want you to deliver word for word … nothing more, nothing less. They will also likely provide you with details or instructions on how to deliver the introduction. You may be told to read it quickly with an increasing tempo or perhaps slow and whimsical. It all depends on what they are trying to achieve in their presentation.
If you can memorize some of it without having to read your notes word for word, all the better. As an emcee I have often met the speaker just moments before they go on stage with them passing me their introduction and only having a quick view of what I will be reading. If you have the luxury of being able to contact your speaker in advance to work out the details of their introduction, then by all means do so.
But what about the nonprofessional speaker that when asked for an introduction of their presentation replies with “Oh you know me. Just make something up!” What will you do then? I would muster up my creative writing skills and craft an award-winning introduction. Okay, the awards haven’t been coming too quickly yet, if not at all!
Using the six questions of who, what, why, when, where and how that every story requires, you would start by gathering answers to each of those vital questions. This information gathering leads to the next step of the process that I call creating promotional copy. That is a term borrowed from the direct marketing industry to promote and sell products or services. In our case we are “selling” the speaker to the audience.
The most important factor we have to address from the audience’s perspective is “what’s in it for me?” Those that are awake and not texting on their smart phone that is. Each of us as an audience member is asking the same questions … “Why should I listen to this person?” “Where is their credibility?” “What promises are they making me?” I am sure it would be quite easy to build a long list of thoughts that go through an audience member’s minds while awaiting an upcoming speaker. “I hope they don’t go on and on… I have to go to the bathroom!”
If the person that I am introducing is speaking on a topic that has been chosen for them in advance and they have been chosen to speak because they have expertise on the subject, I would build that into my introduction. I would mention any academic achievements or honorary awards that they have been presented if it adds to their credibility. I would do my best to highlight their accomplishments and promote what sage wisdom they will likely have to share with us. Your introduction serves as the warm up act in helping your speaker to a strong start.
For some speakers you may have to impose a limit to the amount that you say about them. I am reminded of a workshop that I attended where the introducer of the presenter advised us that when she contacted the speaker, who was a psychologist, for biographical information to do the introduction, she was provided with a 32 page fax of the doctor’s accomplishments. I was impressed up until the point that I realized that she was intending to read every word on every page of all 32 pages!
Sometimes as an emcee you will encounter a speaker that is lackluster, some may call them “plain vanilla.” That probably begs the question “why are they speaking if that is true?” Your challenge as a promotional copy writer is to work with them and dig a little to find those personal details that will “sell” the speaker. Your digging might even reveal an astounding fact that your speaker doesn’t boast about, that while not directly related to the topic at hand, has great relevance. Have you ever wondered how athletes or celebrities become motivational speakers? Their stardom enables them to springboard into other topics that brings their credibility with them. Your job as they say is to find that hidden nugget and craft it into a diamond.
I would make a suggestion at this juncture that if it does fall into your lap to create promotional copy to introduce a speaker, that you review it with the speaker before presenting it live. It can be embarrassing for the speaker to hear an introduction that wasn’t true, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Other’s, may be embarrassed to have their accomplishments revealed publicly.
Now as for introducing a featured speaker who has a prepared speech or presentation the process is essentially the same with the addition of promotional copy to build excitement about the topic as well as the speaker. Why is this topic important or of value to the audience? Why this particular speaker? Why now?
You definitely require the assistance of your speaker in crafting this promo. What information does your speaker want you to impart upon the audience? Does the speaker want the audience all fired up or in a thoughtful mood? Does your audience need to be focussed on something before the speaker starts? Asking rhetorical questions of the audience can be beneficial. “Who among us believes …” “Have you ever found yourself … our speaker has! And they can’t wait to tell you how they …”
Your introduction should be crafted as any other speech. It should include an opening, body and conclusion. The slight difference in telling a story is that you are building the excitement as part of the speaker’s story and it is up to them to finish it.
Pitfalls to avoid:
- You don’t want to create a promotional introduction that might embarrass the speaker.
- Avoid making statements that the speaker couldn’t possibly live up to. Example: “You are going to absolutely love this speaker. He is the funniest man alive. He makes Robin Williams look like Richard Nixon!” If it is true … go for it! If not … don’t use it.
- Do not steal the speaker’s thunder! Perhaps you have heard the speaker’s presentation before. Mentioning the content or paraphrasing their lines can take away the impact of the material when the speaker is presenting it. I would suggest confirming with the speaker that your introduction adds to their presentation and not take away from it. I have experienced on far too many occasions where I have been asked to give a few words on a subject with short notice only to find that the introducer has said almost word for word what I was about to deliver.
- Don’t wing it. Practice, practice, practice! Despite how the cliché goes, practice does not make perfect. Practice with constructive feedback and acting upon the suggestions, leads to excellence. Rehearse your introductions out loud and have a partner provide you with feedback as to what worked, what didn’t and what you could do to improve your presentation. Toastmasters clubs are excellent places to practice these skills and receive constructive feedback.
Top Photo courtesy of flickr Creative Commons Lisence.