A killer introduction to setup your speaker for success

A well crafted introduction sets up your speaker for success. Learn how to prepare and deliver a great opener.

Eric Goldman
Speaking and Presenting
8 min readMay 4, 2019

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Whether you are the speaker or the emcee introducing the speaker, it is imperative to be prepared and know the keys to a good introduction. This article is written to guide the emcee; however, all speakers should take note and ensure that they receive the introductions they deserve. As a speaker, you should be prepared to coach the person introducing you to help you succeed. It’s your speech — it never hurts to give yourself a helping hand!

A speech or presentation is the sum of all its parts. Beyond just your actual speech, the room setup, the lead in, and the lead out all play a role in the audience’s perception, attention, and memory. Sometimes, this means relying on a support cast of contributors and depending on things to happen that are in the hands of others.

A speech often seems more impressive when the speaker is formally introduced by an emcee. The emcee’s role is more than saying the speaker’s name and passing the microphone; you need to give the audience a sense of the speaker’s purpose and value proposition. The emcee often sets the energy of the crowd and establishes the norm for audience participation.

Before it’s time to give your introduction, you need to prepare. You need to know about your speaker, about his or her presentation, and you need to know your audience. In fact, knowing your audience may actually the most important part!

Let’s start with your audience. Why did they show up in the first place? You should understand their motivations for being there and try to think about what they are going to get out of this presentation to be sure that you emphasize the key selling points — which may differ from how the speaker summarized or sold his or her presentation in the invite. In addition, you will hopefully know the background and experience level of the audience. You can help set realistic expectations, but be sure not to scare anyone away by classifying the presentation as too beginner or too basic. Think about your introduction as a sales pitch — you want to sell the speaker, and you want to close the sale.

Do some research on the speaker or, better yet, try to meet the speaker and chat with him or her well in advance of the presentation. Even if you can only meet someone two minutes ahead of time, try to make that connection. When you give a completely cold introduction, it may show through; by the same token, if you can manage to light even a little spark with that person it will shine through your eyes and body language. You don’t necessarily need to chat about the speech or the content — maybe you have an interesting question based on your background research or want to ask something unrelated to their speech but in the speaker’s area of expertise. It’s also a good idea to know the basics — their company or organization, where they came from, their expertise, bona fides, etc. Oh, and lest I forget — make sure you learn and practice the proper pronunciation of the speaker’s name. Don’t be afraid to ask and to practice in front of the speaker; this shows you care and want the speaker to succeed. In addition, the speaker will probably get a bit of a boost when you pull off that tricky pronunciation that so many others in past could not manage or sadly never even attempted to say correctly.

Lastly, to bring it all together you need to know about the topic of the presentation or speech. Do not rely on the abstract or event invite. Some speakers (or the person to which they delegated writing the abstract) may not be able to take their 30+ minute speech and summarize it effectively or for the benefit of the audience. You also don’t want to get caught in a situation where you are reading verbatim off a sheet or paper. Just like if you were giving a speech, do some prep and practice speaking from within, not from written notes.

Preparation consists of equal parts information and attitude. You know something about the audience, the presentation, and the speaker — but what about you? You’re delivery and energy matter. Seriously. If you muddle through your introduction or sound unsure or uninterested, how do you expect your audience to react? You need to help the speaker by setting the tone and the energy.

If you ever attend a TV show taping, even an exciting game show or talk show, you will almost always see someone who comes on front to get the audience ready. This individual wants the audience to look good for TV, of course, but producers know that this impacts the people on stage, performers feed off the energy in the room of course! The warm up man or women is not only getting people excited, but will help set the expectations. When should you be quiet, when should you cheer (“Come on, you can cheer louder everyone, can’t you!?”). I’m sure you’ve been in an audience where you wanted to clap, but stopped short when you realized you would be the only one. If we want clapping, standing, quiet, or anything else — it is your role in the introduction to make this clear through your words, actions, and body language.

If the speech will be on a somber topic then talk slowly, pause between sentences, and show some strain in your face. If the speaker is going to teach everyone a new technique for success then pump you fist in the air, smile and nod your head, stand up straight and tall. Think of your introduction as the appetizer for the upcoming main course — give them a taste of what’s to come and set the right expectations.

Do you have some tips for giving an awesome intro? Do you have a story to share about a great introduction or a not so great experience we can all learn from? Keep reading, but then leave your story in the comments below.

Now that you’ve done your research and mentally prepared yourself, bring it all together. You don’t want to take up to much time; however, being too brief can leave the audience feel like something is missing. Shoot for maybe 20–30 seconds, 3–5 sentences in general, especially for less formal occasions or events (for a keynote speaker you may want a more lengthy bio). This may feel long, but if you have prepped ahead of time this will be easy to fill. I am not going to recommend any hard and fast rules about what to say. Instead, think about what you need to do to sell the whole package: Will knowing the speaker’s employer or education add prestige and entice your audience? What mixture of speaker and speech is interesting? Is the speaker’s background relative the speech strongly correlated ?— Or perhaps because the mix of background and experience are so weird and unexpected, this combination should be the talking point!

I will, however, recommend how you should end your introduction. Make sure you do strong hand-off. This entails acknowledging the speaker, directing the audience, and ensuring the audience gives the speaker a warm welcome.

For example:

“Now, please put your hands together as I welcome to the stage Mr. Bill Gates.”

or

“…And this is why I am so excited that Steve Jobs has joined us here today. Let’s give Steve a warm welcome.”

First and foremost, if you want the audience to clap or cheer — lead the charge. You may want to exaggerate your actions or hold your hands up high since people are usually looking at your face and this will make your actions more visible. As you hand off the microphone or the podium, look at the speaker, gesture towards him or her with your hands, and give the audience a clear transition to the speaker. You need to end your introduction purposefully. Think about your tone and body language. You should also be cognizant of where you are standing in relation to the speaker and plan to step out of the way or across the stage in a graceful and respectful manner (try to avoid stepping in front of your speaker if you can).

If you are giving an introduction, think about whether or not you should receive the speaker again at the end of his or her speech. While the speaker may make a grand ending, sometimes people are not sure if the presentation is really over, if there is time for question, etc. Be prepared to thank the speaker and ask for a round of applause, even if the audience has already clapped once, ask them to clap one more time. Hopefully, you had the opportunity to listen to the speech. Try to reinforce an interesting point or to at least reiterate the conclusion. You can certainly prepare a closing, but be prepared to ad lib or change it based on the actual presentation content. In your closing be sure to say their name, and is appropriate, how to get in contact with the speaker and/or to direct the audience to an appropriate location for questions or socializing. If your speaker needs to make a quick exit, let the audience know so the speaker doesn’t get held up trying to be polite. If the speaker has a microphone or other AV equipment, help direct them to the tech people who can handle those needs.

If the speaker needs to go to another location for question/socializing be prepare to escort him or her, or to arrange for someone else to help the speaker navigate your facility. Even though your job is done, and you may never see this person again, be prepared to make some small chat. You can personally thank the speaker or ask a follow up question. This is good etiquette and will also help leave the speaker with a good feeling, even if the speech didn’t turn out as well as he or she had hoped.

Remember

We do not experience our lives in isolated and separate boxes; instead, we flow from moment to moment and each experience impacts those in close proximity. By preparing a good introduction you are helping the speaker and you are also elevating your role. Take this responsibility seriously and prepare yourself. Arm yourself with key knowledge and the right emotions and you can help impact the future.

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