Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Toward better panel introductions

Introducing the speakers is a major part of the moderator’s role. Smart introductions prepare the audience to listen, bring it to attention, and set the tone for the panel to come. I can't tell you how often, as a speaker, I've had the person introducing me say, "Oh, I forgot to bring your bio, so I'll just say your name--how do you pronounce that again?--and then you just launch into it," or listened to them read my credentials, all of them, without looking up once. Here are do's and don'ts for good speaker introductions:
  • Don't put them together at the last minute: Avoid crafting an impromptu introduction. You'll do better by your speakers if you take the time to jot down thoughts a few weeks ahead, revisiting them before you get to the event, and again just before you speak.
  • Do ask the speakers for input: I advise speakers to take charge of their own introductions, including having a suite of intros suitable for many occasions. But in case your speakers don't, and even if they do, find out more about her personal experience with the topic, what she'd like to emphasize, what's especially interesting to her about this group, or other details you can use to make the intro meatier. And yes, ask her how to pronounce her name.
  • Don't read the introduction: Reading an introduction is no better than reading a speech--and belies your lack of preparation. Remember: Audience interest is highest at the start of any talk, and you are the start of this one. So reward your audience by looking at it, and by delivering an engaging, lively introduction that packs a punch.
  • Do add some perspective of your own: When you're standing up front to introduce a speaker, you're in effect building a chance to connect the audience with the speaker. So put yourself in that equation. Just this week, a lovely introduction of one of my speeches noted one of my awards--and the introducer added that a good friend of hers was the current holder of that prize, so she knew just what accomplishments it reflected. That kind of line holds an audience's attention precisely because it's not read off the sheet, and no one else can share it but you. Makes the speaker feel great, too.
  • Don't steal the speaker's best content: If you've done your preparation correctly, you'll know a lot of what the speakers will be saying. Don't borrow a speaker’s content for the introduction and steal her thunder. Don't tell the audience what her conclusions are or her position on an issue. Instead, focus on context-setting and expertise.
  • Don't skimp: Saying someone needs no introduction is a cop-out and lazy. Set the stage. Share some context. Tell a brief story. Even the most familiar or famous speaker deserves some words to warm the audience to the task at hand....and if you skimp on an introduction, you're just missing your own opportunity to show your speaking skills.
(Creative Commons licensed photo by IFPRI Images)

Need more coaching on how to be a better panel moderator? Order the new ebook The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels. At just $3.99 and available in many formats, it's a great back-pocket coach to take on stage with you in your smartphone or tablet. Find more tips on public speaking on The Eloquent Woman blog.