INTRODUCING AND THANKING SPEAKERS

            There are some important points to consider when introducing or thanking a speaker; let’s start with introductions

            Although it should be easy to prepare and deliver, the speech of introduction is one of the most consistently-butchered performances known to the human race. There are two reasons for this; first, people don’t really understand the purpose of the speech of introduction, and second most people underestimate its importance and don’t properly prepare.

            Most introducers think their job is either to entertain the audience by being funny, or to make a speech of their own. Nothing could be further from the truth. The audience didn’t come to hear the introducer; they came to hear the featured speaker.

            The introducer’s job is to

  1. Remind the audience why the topic is important to them
  2. Establish the speaker’s qualifications to speak on the topic
  3. Get the presentation off on a high note by establishing an up-beat tone
  4. Make the speaker feel especially welcome

            All of this can be accomplished in no more than a couple of minutes.

            If you’re slated to be an introducer, get in touch with the speaker well before the day of the event. First, be sure you have the exact title of the talk. Next, along with the speaker, decide which items from the speaker’s resume should be mentioned, items that will convince the audience that the speaker is qualified to speak on the particular topic. As well, you and the speaker should determine if there are any other points of interest about the speaker that should be included in the introduction. Then you need to develop a reason or two why this speech will be important to this particular audience.

            Never try to give a speech of introduction strictly from memory. Always make notes. You should also rehearse the introduction until you’re confident that you have it down pat.

            When you arrive at the venue, check with the speaker to see if there are any last-minute changes that need to be made.

            Here is an example of an appropriate and effective speech of introduction.

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen. It’s a great pleasure for me to introduce our speaker tonight, who is going to talk to us about the ten most common personal financial planning mistakes. This is a subject in which we should all be deeply interested because it’s by avoiding financial mistakes that we can best ensure our financial futures. Our speaker, although having spent almost his entire career advising people on their finances in places like New York, Los Angeles and Toronto, grew up about thirty miles from where we are right now. He is an award-winning professional accountant who has specialized in personal finances and taxation for over twenty years, and has guided the financial affairs of some of this country’s best-known athletes, entertainers, entrepreneurs and executives. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming home, Steve Robbins!”

             When you arrive at the lectern to perform the actual introduction, remember these ten rules.

  1. Stick to meeting the four objectives of a speech of introduction; avoid the temptation to   make your own speech, either on the topic or anything else
  2. Never try to introduce a speaker from memory; have good notes
  3. Never tell a joke. There are no circumstances that justify telling a joke during a speech of introduction
  4. Keep the introduction as short as possible
  5. Be up-beat and enthusiastic
  6. Avoid clichés such as “a person who needs no introduction” and “without further ado”
  7. Look at the audience, not at the speaker, during the introduction; turn toward the speaker only at the very end of the introduction
  8. Start the applause
  9. Wait at the lectern and greet the speaker with a hearty handshake
  10. Go sit down

            Most “thank you Mr. Speaker” speeches are also dreadful, but they are less harmful than a bad speech of introduction because by then the main speaker has finished and is immune to further damage.

            The most common mistake made by people assigned to thank a speaker is to repeat portions of the talk. That’s totally unnecessary, is boring at best, and empties the hall at worst.

            If you’re going to be thanking the speaker you should make a point of introducing yourself to the speaker before the event begins. Tell the speaker you’ll be thanking him or her and chat for a moment or two, all the while listening for any points that you might be able to use in your thank-you speech. Perhaps the speaker had to cut short a trip to keep the engagement. Maybe the speaker came a very great distance to give the talk. Usually there isn’t, but if there happens to be anything worthy of note, be sure to mention it. But stay away from clichés such as “taking time out from your busy schedule” or “honouring us with your presence”.

            You’ll need to listen intently to the speech and make notes that will help you choose an appropriate adjective or two with which to describe it. You should also note any surprises the speech held, such as an unexpected revelation or a particularly valuable piece of advice.

            You can never go wrong by opening your-thank you speech with the simple words “Thank you very much Ms. Speaker for a (insert an appropriate adjective) presentation.” Then mention one or two (but no more) worthy points from the speech, such as the surprising revelation or the valuable advice referred to earlier. If you did pick up any tidbit worthy of mention about any particular sacrifice or special effort the speaker had to make to be there, be sure to mention it.

            If you’re presenting a gift, call the speaker back to the lectern and present the gift with an appropriate short statement. If the speaker wishes to say a few words of thanks, that’s fine. But never pressure a speaker to do so. If you’re also the master of ceremonies you should then get on with the program; or if it’s finished, state that fact, make any closing announcements, thank the people for coming and move away from the lectern. If you’re not the master of ceremonies, just go and sit down.

            Here’s an example of an appropriate and effective thank-you speech.

“Thank you Ms. McPherson for an enlightening and entertaining presentation on the right way to apply for a bank loan; we appreciate having this mysterious area clarified. Your advice to always present an annual budget document to the loan officer showing how we intend to use the loan proceeds and how we’ll be able to service the loan is especially useful. The audience may not know this, Ms. McPherson, but we owe you a special vote of thanks for being here because I happened to find out that you delayed your annual golf trip a couple of days so that you could make it. We really appreciate that. I have a small token of our appreciation here for you, Ms. McPherson. Please accept it with our sincere thanks.”

              Remember, when introducing or thanking a speaker, you are not the star.

(This column is based on my book The Elements of Great Public Speaking.)

 

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