The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing a Great Introduction for Your Public Speaking Appearance
How much thought do you give to how the emcee at an event brings you on stage?
Many speakers give this as little thought as possible because they’re focused on their content and what will happen after they’re on stage. But the introduction the emcee uses to introduce you to the audience is when your speech truly begins. It’s your chance to warm up the audience, set the tone for your speech, and establish credibility. The emcee’s introduction is the first critical impression the audience gets as to who you are as both a speaker and a person. So, no pressure or anything.
Despite this, many speakers either choose to ignore the intro altogether, or worse, they have the emcee just read a list of life milestones like education, awards, and job titles. Which is absurdly boring. I know we can do better.
To inspire you to craft better introductions for your next speaking appearance, I’ve collected Do’s and Don’ts from professional speakers who write emcee introductions that leave the audience excited to hear what comes next and wanting to learn more.
Don’t include your entire resume
Does the audience really need to know where you got your degree from (with the sole exception of it being an audience at an academic lecture), how many jobs you’ve had, or a list of your awards and credentials? No!
But Natalie, you object, how will they know I’m credible if they haven’t heard my entire CV before getting on stage?? How will they know that I know what I’m doing if they don’t know every single Toastmasters credential I’ve ever received?! Why should they listen to me without knowing that I’ve won a series of awards that are unrelated to my speaking engagement??
Well there are many ways you can establish credibility in your introduction without having the emcee read your resume. Consider highlighting only one or two key roles you’ve held, something interesting you’ve accomplished that relates to your speaking role, or a fun fact that will pique the audience’s interest.
Consider this example, where the speaker gives us a 3000-foot overview of her career, what she’s doing now, why it’s relevant (she’ll be speaking about leadership), and an interesting (and relevant) fact about her leadership experience.
Real-life Example: “As an entrepreneur, Michelle H. built three (3) multi-million dollar companies from the ground up - two of which went international. Today she is CEO of an international research and development company of biological signaling called Zero Quantum. However, she will tell you: ‘I've been a leader all my life, but have learned more by helping others through Toastmasters than in the 35+ years as a business leader.’ Please welcome Michelle!”
Consider that many speaking events publish programs which contain info about the speakers, or even have websites leading up to the event that feature the speaker’s bios. In fact, in most professional settings the audience will have an idea about your background and credentials before you take the stage. Asking the emcee to introduce you by reading off a list of resume-style accomplishments isn’t just boring, it tends to come across as self-serving.
You can establish credibility through your speech, and the value you offer the audience. Give them a reason to speak to you after the show, or to connect with you via your website or social media platforms. As in, resume entries don’t make someone a valuable speaker; what the speaker teaches the audience is the real measure of credibility.
Do keep it brief
The Gettysburg Address clocks in at just under three minutes. If your intro is longer than one of the greatest speeches in history, then it’s too damn long.
Do consider using humor, an engaging question, or suspense
How the emcee introduces you sets the tone for your whole speech. Could this be the perfect time to pose an engaging question to the audience? Could you have the emcee drop a key piece of info about your speech that will leave them wanting more? Is there a perfect opportunity to weave in a joke that relates to your speech? All of these techniques help warm up the audience and makes them more receptive to hearing your speech.
Consider this example where the speaker pokes a little bit of fun at himself through his speech competition record. He incorporates humor, keeps it brief, and adds a little to make the audience want to know more.
Real-life example: Keith S. has placed third, second, and then third in three different district-level international speech contests. Keith placed first in his one and only district-level evaluation contest. So while he may be decent at creating an emotional connection in a speech, he is an expert at spotting it! To coach the audience on how to recognize an emotional connection in a speech, please help me welcome Keith S.!
Do relate it to what you’re going to speak about
Humor and suspenseful questions are great, unless they have nothing to do with your speech. Then they just mislead the audience. Just the same, including credentials or job titles that are unrelated to what you’re speaking about just leads the audience astray. If your speech is about a personal issue (death, disease, divorce), do I really need to know your job title? And conversely, if you’re speaking about a professional topic and choose to include things in your speech intro like your marital status or that you have kids, it just doesn’t connect.
Consider this example where the speaker has the emcee open with an engaging question that relates to her speech, then gives us a quick little bit about what she’s going to speak about. It’s short, yet impactful and terribly effective at getting the audience interested in learning more.
Real-life example: Did circumstances in your formative years leave you with limiting beliefs and habits? Our next speaker, Teresa G., will be sharing with you how the compassion of family and friends is helping her overcome a limiting behavior. Please welcome Teresa G.!
At every step of planning and writing your speech, you should be able to answer the question “How does this directly support my main point?” Furthermore, you should be able to answer that question in 1-2 sentences.
Mastering the emcee’s introduction for your speech is yet another way to increase the value and quality of your speaking engagements. Skilled speakers know first impressions are everything, and what the audience hears about you before step foot on stage will affect how they experience your speech. Do you want your first impression to be as a self-involved blow-hard who lacks self-awareness, OR a savvy and skilled speaker who knows how to get the audience on board?
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