How to Introduce a Guest Speaker: Tips & Templates
By Marie Wallace. Published on September 1, 1997
"More speeches than you can imagine are doomed to fail by bad introductions. Instead of kindling fires of enthusiasm within the audience, the introductions lead to an epidemic outbreak of brain freeze."
The Toastmaster, April 1996, p.6
(Archived October 1, 1997)
Marie Wallace has enjoyed a fulfilling career as a librarian, beginning in 1951 in academia with the University of California and transitioning in 1971 into the private law library world until her 1995 retirement from O'Melveny & Myers. she is the 1997 recipient of the American Association of Law Libraries' highest honor, the Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award. Throughout her professional life, Marie has been a guiding force in the Southern California Association of Law Libraries, Practising Law Institute's programs for law librarians and Teaching Legal Research in Private Law Libraries (TRIPLL).
Today, Marie has commenced on a new path she terms "Life in Progress," which enables her to pursue a diversity of interests as a master swimmer, law librarian, trainer, storyboarder and designer of wearable art. She continues to be a dynamic speaker and prolific writer on such topics as private law library management, presentations and training. She is a member of Toastmasters International and is active with the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and in continuing education for private law librarians. She devotes her "free" time to various non-profit and civic activities. Always open to new ideas, Marie can be reached at: [email protected]
The Importance of Introductions
Knowing how to introduce a speaker is an important skill in our professional and personal lives. Everyone is expected to be proficient but most are not. Are you comfortable when asked to introduce a speaker? It is more likely you are nervous and a bit uneasy about what is expected. Does it feel like an opportunity?
Why not just let the speaker get up and start speaking? (Sometimes that idea has crossed my mind in the middle of a long, dull, and droning introduction covering every achievement in the life of the speaker and frankly, it might be an improvement.) Why are so many introductions such a drag? Bad introductions are so common that introducers mistake them for the norm and most people are ignorant of the purpose and organization of introductions.
The purpose of an introduction is to gain the audience's attention. Members of the audience arrive individually
and need to coalesce as a group. The audience may have just come from listening to another speaker on a totally different topic and are still mulling over the ideas. They may be in the middle of an interesting conversation with a friend. They may be thinking about modifying their own speech scheduled for later in the day.
A secondary purpose is to motivate the audience to listen. Just because the audience is there doesn't mean the are ready to listen. Maybe they came to be seen, take a brief nap or escape something else. You can motivate by giving a preview of the speech from the perspective of the audience. Let them know "What's In It for Me"--narrow the gap between the audience and the lectern.
Organization & Preparation
How is a good introduction organized? Introductions fuse three elements: the subject, the audience and the speaker. The order of the elements is not important, either can come first or last. The important thing to remember is that the focus is not solely on the speaker, it is on bringing together the three elements so they open a window.
What do you need to do to craft a good introduction? The answer is prepare, practice and be enthusiastic. These need not take long once you understand what you are doing and why. Preparation involves learning about the speaker, the topical nature of the subject and the audience's interests and concerns. Get speaker information from the speaker. Get audience background from members of the audience and subject information from the Program Chair, the related current awareness media or your own pipeline.
When you ask for information, ask what the speaker would like you to emphasize or what the speaker thinks is relevant. Some seasoned speakers prefer to write out their own introduction. (They have experienced too many bum intros.) If a speaker provides a lengthy vitae, do not feel obligated to use it all. Shift through and pick out the things that connect the speaker with the subject and audience. In media parlance, you are preparing a coming attraction "tease"--not a eulogy.
Write out your introduction. Practice it in front of a mirror or into a tape recorder for timing. Hone it to sound natural and enthusiastic. Reduce your written introduction to a few key words and phrases. Transfer them, in large font, to a large sheet a paper. This will be your crutch and because it is there you will probably not need to look at it.