My reaction to a couple of speeches I heard recently has prompted me to write today about introductions. I don’t mean the opening of your speech. I mean the introduction you write for someone else to give before you speak. This introduction has a specific purpose: to engage the audience’s interest and curiosity so they will want to hear what you have to say. True, the first 30 seconds of your speech will have a major impact on whether this goal is actually accomplished, but capturing that interest starts before you even take the stage. That’s why you don’t want to make these three common mistakes!
- Including too many credentials. When you are deciding which of your many accolades and accomplishments to highlight in your introduction, remember this: all your listeners really want to know is what qualifies you to give this speech. The one you’re giving right now. Therefore, don’t load up your intro with a lot of ego-boosters that don’t help your audience answer that question. You can always reveal more about yourself in the course of the speech—and when you do, be sure to include your struggles as well as your triumphs. That makes your ultimate success something your listeners can relate to.
- Failing to answer the question, “Why?” There are really two “Why” questions in the listener’s mind: “Why you?” and “Why should I listen?” Mistake #1 is about the first one, but the second is equally important, if not more so. Failing to address this question head-on is a common and serious error. To avoid this mistake, you have to include “You”-focused language in your intro. “Today you will hear how you can…” (grow rich, get healthier, have better relationships) “from a speaker who has…” (overcome mediocrity and ingrown toenails).
- Failing to direct the listener’s curiosity. What, exactly, do you want your listeners to be wondering—to be curious about—when you launch into your speech? Probably the main premise, right? Yet, how many times have you heard introductions that failed to tap into that curiosity and direct it to the heart of the matter? I recently heard a speech about improving an aspect of a Toastmasters club. The speech started with a brief story about a fighter pilot communicating with a ground controller during an exercise. What I noticed as the speech unfolded was that the introduction had nothing to do with the actual speech; it was all about the jargon used by fighter pilots. The intro actually spent longer setting up the speaker’s opening story than he spent telling it! Had my attention and curiosity been directed to the speech’s premise from the outset, I would have been more receptive to the message. This is another case where looking at it from the audience’s perspective is essential.
Bonus: the worst mistake of all! But the worst mistake, and perhaps the most common one, is not providing a written intro at all. What happens then? We’ve all seen it. Lacking a proper introduction, the session moderator reads the speaker’s bio from the program. This is wrong for two reasons: (1) We can all read the bio for ourselves, and probably already did, and (2) A bio is about the speaker, whereas an intro should set up the speech. Please don’t make this fundamental error either!
What other mistakes have you seen in speakers’ intros?