How Should I Introduce You Public Speaker?

Billy Crystal Always Has A Great Introduction Before He Speaks
Billy Crystal Always Has A Great Introduction Before He Speaks

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.

10 thoughts on “How Should I Introduce You Public Speaker?”

  1. I appreciate your post — a solid and good reminder of the importance of first impressions. In Billy Crystal’s case, he has a video to do the work. For the mere mortal, I think it is indeed a great idea to have it written down. So often, when I have had to introduce someone, I have to call up someone (who is going to be a speaker) and take notes which inevitably are an interpretation, with the potential for mistakes. As for myself, I will go to task, and write up my own introduction, albeit it needs to be adapted according to the speech (and the language, etc.).

    In the meantime, I thought I’d add a couple of anecdotes:

    A bad introduction can happen when the introducer plain and simple gets the details wrong. Not just flubbed, but wrong information. But then, if the speaker feels the compulsion to correct openly, this then discredits everyone. Sometimes, it is just better to ride out and over the mistakes.

    Another case: the introducer has a lot of energy and enthusiasm and the speaker comes out flat… Maybe the speaker should have been introducing the introducer?!

    • Minter: Ouch! You are right on the mark when you are talking about BAD introductions. What I’ve seen happen is that the speaker is thrown for a loop even before they open their mouth and right off the bat they end up trying to undo the damage that the introduction did. This messes up the rest of their speech and they never seem to recover…!

  2. Jim,
    You are so right on this topic. I’ll never forget having a speech taped by a professional camera crew for my demo tape and the person introducing me messed up my name and garbled the rest. Now I ask them to only give a very short short bio to introduce me and I tell the rest of my story.


    • Terri: I guess there was no way to “bleep” out your gabled name on the demo tape! That’s one reason that you should always make sure that your printed intro is printed in nice large font – less of a chance that they’ll make a mistake!!!

  3. Jim, as a professional speaker, I’ve often thought it would be cool to have a comedian friend of mine actually create a video introduction to warm up the group and to get away from having someone read the one I’ve written. But speaker friends warn me if the video is better than me, I’ll pale by comparison. Haven’t done it yet, but this makes me think about it again.

    • Rita: wow – what a great friend to have! I say go for it. Sure, there is always a possibility that the video might be “too good”, but the chances of that are pretty low. I think that the key will be how the video ends – it needs to do a soft handoff to your speech. It can be done, it’ll just take some careful design work!

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