Q: How do I introduce speakers?
A: One word at a time. [Rimshot]
Have you ever been to a comedy club, or seen a major comedian in concert? They always have warm-up acts, right?
Yes, I know bands have warm-up acts too but the sound is always terrible. I have a conspiracy theory about that, but I think we’ve had enough of conspiracy theories to last about a dozen lifetimes—so let’s stick with comedy.
The warm-up act has a tough job. They have to entertain an audience that, for the most part, has come there to see someone else. They have to be funny, but not so funny that they overshadow the headliner. But they’re called the “warm-up act” because their main job is to remind the audience that they know how to laugh. Laugh at the warm-up act and you’re primed to guffaw when the star comes onstage.
The good news is, you do not have to be a standup comedian to introduce someone at a corporate event. But you do have to get the audience ready for the main speaker. So in some respects your job is the same as the warm-up act’s. And I can sum up your main responsibility in four words:
Thou Shalt Not Bore
So please, please, please do not read the biography of the speaker that’s printed in the program. Unless this is Career Day at the preschool, assume your audience can do that by themselves. Yet, according to Deborah Grayson Riegel’s article in Harvard Business Review, some version of that accounts for fully half of the introductions she receives. The other half are equally unhelpful: baseless flattery (“Deborah needs no introduction!”) or extreme transparency (“I’ve never met Deborah but I’m sure she’s great!”).
Introduce speakers to establish the tone of the event
Your job as the introducer is to set the table for the speech. You’ve never met the speaker? Okay, but you have met our mutual friend Google. So learn something about her. Something that’s not in the bio.
Talk to the event organizers. There’s a reason they invited her—find out what it was and talk about that. You might think it’s obvious—she’s an expert on XYZ and the conference is about XYZ. But she’s probably not the only expert in the world. Why did they choose this person?
You might also ask the speaker what points she’d like included in the introduction. You don’t want to give away the content of her speech, but you could tee it up: “She’s going to make some interesting points about XYZ—sure to spark some enthusiastic conversations going forward.”
Really, there’s no formula to introduce speakers. Get the audience’s attention focused on the stage, help them transition from feeding their bodies to feeding their minds. Keep it short. But most of all, keep it interesting.
Thou Shalt Not Bore