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Thank You for That Kind Introduction

I was very excited about attending a professional meeting recently, as one of the key attractions was to be a session with a big-name guy who is notable, prominent, and controversial. My colleagues were similarly eager to hear him speak, and on the morning of his talk everyone paid close attention as the meeting chair announced, “I am very pleased to introduce. … ”

The introduction began with an overview of big-name guy’s most recent and controversial accomplishments. After about a minute and a half, his educational background and activities were detailed. This information was followed by a list of additional professional accomplishments that had occurred during the course of his career. Next, we were treated to a list of big-name guy’s many awards, which were, of course, extensive. Important information about the big-name guy’s family members and their remarkable achievements was next on the agenda. As we covered the current happenings in the life of Child No. 1, my colleague to the left discovered that this biographical novella had actually been placed in the conference program and was being read in its entirety. “This whole thing is in the program!” he whispered quite loudly. To demonstrate outrage, he used his finger to follow line after excruciating line, until finally it was over.

As big-name guy approached the podium he exuded humility and said to his introducer, “Thank you so much for that very kind introduction.”

While we were still all interested in hearing what big-name guy had to say, the room had suddenly turned against him. In the course of his forever introduction, he evolved from a fascinating figure to a blowhard and braggart. Really, what possesses a person to provide that much content for an introduction? And more importantly, what possessed the introducer to read it all?

Because introductions have to the power to sway audience opinion about the quality and character of the speaker, I like to take control of the opening remarks whenever I’m giving a talk. I’ll provide the longer biographical sketch that is often requested and then offer a few sentences that can be used for the introduction. I find this is safer than allowing someone who doesn’t know me to pick and choose what to highlight in the opening remarks, and most introducers are happy to have me do the work. Every venue has its introduction conventions, so it’s important to follow them, but it’s worth paying attention to the kinds of introductions that start speakers off well and the ones that create annoyance or hostility. You want your audience to root for you, not to want to prove that you aren’t as smart as you claim to be.

What tips do you have for making introductions or recovering from botched opening comments?

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