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Presentation skills: Introductions.

Give The Best Introduction Every Time.
Here Are Some Tips To Get Your Meeting Started On A High Note.

The introduction has a purpose. A strong introduction helps establish the speaker's credibility. It creates interest in the speaker and what the speaker has to say. Introductions also act as a bridge, transitioning from one speaker to the next. So don't leave introductions to chance.

Get to know the speaker.
First, find out the main points the speaker plans to discuss. Next, check out the speaker's credentials. Be selective. Look for what it is that establishes the speaker as a reliable authority on the topic to be covered. Go beyond the speaker's resume. Talk to the speaker, looking for something in his background that especially links to his topic. You may well find something of interest in the speaker's experience or education, some additional detail that supports the speaker's credibility. Look also for a human-interest angle that helps create rapport with the audience. If the speaker is someone you know, include something about the speaker, perhaps an anecdote or a shared experience that may be relevant. Of course, make absolutely sure that what you say about the speaker is accurate. You don't want the speaker to begin his presentation by correcting something you've just said in your introduction.

"Make absolutely sure that what you say about the speaker is accurate."

Four questions every introduction should answer.
Your job is to introduce the speaker, give the speaker a boost, and heighten the audience's interest in both the speaker and the topic. You can accomplish that task by making sure your introduction answers four simple questions:
  • Why this topic?
  • Why this topic for this audience?
  • Why this topic for this audience at this time?
  • Why this topic for this audience at this time by this speaker?

There are many ways to craft a strong introduction. Much depends on the speaker and the circumstances. Keep it very short and simple when everyone already knows the speaker. For most other introductions, you'll need a little research and some creativity. Here's an example of one introduction that quickly builds interest in both the speaker and her topic:

There's a saying, "The devil is in the details." But that's not where you'll find our next speaker. Our speaker has tackled big issues, big challenges, and big opportunities. In fact, over the years, she's been intimately involved in just about every important phase of our business. Her record speaks for itself. To mention just a few highlights: She started our company's quality assurance program, and under her leadership we took a giant leap in improving the quality of our products and services (consider supporting this with numbers or percentages.) She went on to head up the reorganization that streamlined our operations, so that today we're far more efficient and competitive than ever before. And now she's in charge of our strategic planning, getting us ready to make the most of our opportunities as we look to a promising future. She's here today to paint for us a vivid picture of that future. I'm pleased to introduce (name).

Keep it short.
The spotlight is on you only briefly, before the speaker takes over. For small, informal meetings where everyone knows one another, less than a minute of introduction usually is all that's needed. Sometimes, 30 seconds or so will do the trick. At the other extreme, at a formal meeting, you'll need more time, especially if the speaker is not well known to your audience. Still, try to keep your introduction to about two minutes. Announce the speaker's name last. If you announce the speaker's name earlier, the audience may applaud and interrupt your introduction.

Five things you should not do.
  • Don't go overboard with praise the speaker can't live up to.
  • Don't point out any of the speaker's shortcomings.
  • Don't raise an issue that may spark disagreement or controversy before the speaker even gets to the podium.
  • Don't use trite, stilted language. Introducing a speaker with the words, "a person who needs no introduction," raises the question as to why an introduction is necessary in the first place.
  • Don't mangle the speaker's name. If the speaker's name is an unusual one, be sure you know how it's pronounced. Few things can be more embarrassing to the speaker—or to you—than mispronouncing the speaker's name. The best way to check, of course, is by simply asking the speaker. If the name's a tongue twister, write it down phonetically in your notes. Some speakers have definite preferences in how they like to be addressed. In some of the best-known cases, it's Bill Clinton, not William; Dick Cheney, not Richard.
Put your speaker at ease.
For a large, formal meeting, ask your speaker to arrive at least 30 minutes before the meeting begins. In some cases, you may want to allow more time. Check out the room and the set-up together. Make sure the speaker is comfortable with the room setting, and especially any equipment he may be using. Finally, check to see if the speaker has made major changes to his presentation that may lead you in turn to change your introduction.

Show your enthusiasm.
If you show that you're sold on the speaker, it'll help your audience feel that way too. Continue to face your audience as you mention the speaker's name. Remain standing until the speaker stands and acknowledges your introduction. Then sit down; your work is done.

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