As a professional speaker and facilitator for over 20 years, I’ve been introduced more than a thousand times, by countless meeting planners, conference organizers, and team leaders. Nevertheless, most of the introductions have fallen into one of four categories:
1) Flattery: “Deborah needs no introduction.”
2) Do-It-Yourself: “You can read Deborah’s bio in the program book.”
3) Regurgitation: “Let me read to you what’s in Deborah’s bio.”
4) Optimism: “I’ve never met Deborah, but I’m sure she’ll be great!”
While I pride myself on being able to establish credibility and rapport early in a presentation or workshop, I also rely on the person introducing me to help set a positive tone, generate enthusiasm and interest, and make a clear case for why listening to me might be more beneficial than answering emails or taking a coffee break. In other words, a memorable introduction is like a commercial: it should engage and persuade the audience to listen to the speaker. As Aristotle posited in his rhetorical theory of the Three Artistic Proofs, in order to persuade effectively, a speaker needs to go beyond just logical appeals (facts) and include appeals to both emotions and credibility. Assuming you’ve got the basic speaker credentials covered, here are three additional goals to consider:
Goal 1: To transition the audience from what they are doing or thinking about, and to focus their attention on the speaker.
Your audience members may be thinking about the previous speaker’s remarks, be in the middle of a conversation with a colleague, or checking social media. Your job is to get their attention to help them transition from their current mindset and activities to the speaker who is coming next. In their HBR article, “Five Ways to Hold the Right Kind of Attention,” authors John Hagel III and John Seely Brown contend that “attention provides leverage,” which is what you will need to break people away from their current activities.
Hagel and Brown suggest the following ways to capture people’s attention:
- Focus inquiry: Start by framing some thought-provoking questions that are relevant to what the speaker will address, such as “How many of you wish you had more time for strategic thinking?” or “Have you ever wanted to throw away your to-do list?” Questions, especially rhetorical ones, prime the listener to agree with the speaker, and we are more likely to listen to content we agree with.
- Embrace mystery: Start by framing a challenging problem that is relevant to this audience, that isn’t easily resolved, and that the speaker will be addressing. “Here’s a paradox: farmers are among those most likely to be negatively impacted by climate change, and are among those least likely to believe in it.”
- Excite the imagination: Provide some “what if?” scenarios to illustrate the possibilities that the speaker will address. “What if we could guarantee that the next generation of cloud computing would be 100% secure?”
Goal 2: To show the audience that you personally endorse the credibility of this speaker.
You are often the bridge between the audience and the speaker: the audience knows and trusts you, but they don’t yet know or trust the speaker. It’s your job to build that connection during your introduction so that the audience is primed to listen. In his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, author Robert B. Cialdini, PhD, points out that people prefer to say “yes” to those they know and like. If you’re the person this audience knows and likes, and you’re saying yes to this speaker, then they are more likely to as well. You can say something like, “Of all of the experts whose books I read on the topic of accountability, Dave struck me as having the most relatable, practical and time-sensitive approach. I was so inspired by his three principles that I couldn’t wait to invite him to share them with you.”
Another way to do that is to tell the audience what you as a representative of the whole group and the speaker have in common. The more similarities you draw, the more you will be able to capitalize on in-group favoritism, whereby people tend to favor and be more helpful towards people with whom they share more in common. “Like all of us, our speaker truly understands the challenges of being in the advertising industry when the technology is constantly changing,” or “When I first met Ann, we immediately bonded over what it’s like to be a million-mile business flier and try to have a personal life. I know that we all can relate.”
Goal 3: To create intrigue and excitement about what the speaker will deliver.
To persuade your audience to listen to this speaker, you need to offer a promise of what the speaker will deliver, and proof that he or she can deliver on that promise. In their book, Focus: Use Different Ways of Seeing the World for Success and Influence, authors Heidi Grant Halvorson, PhD, and E. Tory Higgins, PhD, note that people are motivated to avoid pain and approach pleasure. The promise you make to the audience on behalf of the speaker should be framed as an opportunity for them to avoid pain (“Samuel will give you five concrete strategies for you to stop losing talent to the competition”) or approach pleasure (“Donna will share her secrets for how to maximize your retirement savings so that you can live the life you had always imagined.”). Then offer some concrete proof, based on the speaker’s experience, credentials, and track record to fortify your promise.
And how to make the final bridge to the speaker’s opening remarks? Author Guy Kawasaki suggests that you end your part with a cliffhanger. “We have a compulsion for completion — an innate, insatiable need for closure — because we are uncomfortable with uncertainty. Don’t be afraid to end your stories or campaigns with a cliffhanger because your audience will want to come back for the sequel!” Or, in this case, they will want to stay for the speaker. You might try, “And so what is Dr. Jill’s powerful formula to dramatically reducing customer complaints? Let me welcome her to the stage right now so she can tell you herself.”
A creative, insightful, and persuasive introduction can focus a distracted audience’s attention, help build a bridge between the audience and the speaker, motivate the audience to listen with interest and excitement, create a positive environment that supports a successful event, and makes the introducer seem credible and confident, too.