You know, it’s always the little things that set the real pros apart from the rest of us. When it comes to speaking in public, having a really good introduction for yourself can be the key to getting your speech off to a great start. I must confess that I had forgotten just how powerful an introduction could be. It took a chance opportunity to attend a private show put on by Billy Crystal to really remind me why introductions are important and, when done correctly, just how powerful they can be.
I was out in Las Vegas attending the big EMC trade show and as part of the show they had the comedian Billy Crystal come in and put on a private show. So there I was along with 1,000’s of other trade show attendees sitting in a mini-arena waiting for Billy to take the stage. All of a sudden, the lights went down, and the jumbo tron TV screens on the stage lit up. What happened next was the mini-movie that had been created to introduce Billy at the start of the 2004 Academy Awards played. This was a serious movie – it must have lasted for just a bit over 5 minutes or so. It was also quite funny – Billy kept finding himself stuck inside a bunch of famous movies as it appeared as though people were trying to talk him into hosting the Academy Awards. Once the movie was over, Billy came out, took the stage, and put on a great show.
It wasn’t until days later (sorry, I really am this slow sometimes) that I suddenly realized WHY the movie had been played. Billy Crystal is a comedian. Comedians (the big ones at least) never just come out and take the stage – they always have an opening act. Why you ask? Simple, the opening act gets the crowd warmed up. It gets them used to laughing. This means that when the main act (the comedian) comes out, he/she doesn’t have to work as hard to get laughs – we’re already primed for them. Even if the opening act bombs, the main comedian will appear great in comparison and we’ll still laugh much easier. Billy didn’t have an opening act for the private show that he was putting on so Billy’s intro movie got every laughing before he came out. It worked like a charm.
What we can all learn from this is that WE need an opening act before we start a speech. Even if other speakers have gone before us, we need our own personal opening act. Good news, you don’t have to go out and hire a comedian. All you have to do is write your own introduction and make sure that someone reads it just before you start your speech. If you’ve got a great intro, then the audience will be primed to hear what you are going to say. They’ll view you as an expert and they will hang on your every word.
What Should Be In My Introduction? Your introduction serves two distinct and separate purposes: to establish your authority and to inform your audience why you are there. I’d suggest that you start by establishing your authority to be speaking on this topic. This can be fairly boring stuff so boil it down to what will impress this audience the most: study that you’ve done, work experience, years in this field, etc. Next you want to explain why you are here today giving this speech. Just saying: my manager asked me to report on this topic is not good enough. Ideally you’ll explain that you are uniquely suited to discuss the issue, or that you have a deep motivation to resolve the problem. This serves as a great springboard into your actual speech.
How Long Should My Introduction Be? The shorter the better. When written out your introduction should be no longer than 1/2 of a typewritten page. Remember: from the audience’s point-of-view your introduction is just answering the question “who is this person” – once they’ve got the info that they need, they’ll stop listening.
Who Should Read My Introduction? This is the most important part. You’re introduction needs to be read to the audience (off of the paper that you handed to him/her) by someone that the audience respects and accepts as one of their own. This will act as a bridge to your speech and will give you instant acceptance by the audience.
As simple as these steps to creating a powerful introduction may seem, there are still a number of potholes that can still screw things up. The #1 issue that I see come up time after time is that the person reading the introduction doesn’t take the time to read it before the event, tries to wing it, and ends up flubbing it. Proper coordination with your introducer can minimize the chances of this happening.
What does your introduction look like? Has it worked for you in the past – do you feel that the audience is ready for you to start speaking when you finally open your mouth? Have you ever seen an introduction done badly? What went wrong? How did this impact the speaker’s speech? Leave a comment and let me know what you are thinking.