How Not to Introduce a Speaker

Are you ever one of multiple presenters, as at a conference like the Office of Government Ethics conference scheduled for this fall? An excellent Government Executive article develops three great tips for those introducing speakers. Here’s the first:

Don’t read the speaker’s biography. Much of the time, introducers walk up to the stage with a written biography, and proceed to read it verbatim. This is a mistake for several reasons. First, it’s boring. Bios are usually written to inform, not fascinate. Second, a typical bio is far too long to hold the audience’s attention. The goal is to pique the audience’s curiosity, not cover the speaker’s entire life history.

Third, even if introducers are armed with a short, punchy bio, they usually trip up when trying to read the words. This often happens to me when I’ve tried to read introductory remarks, leaving me mystified: why can I give a 45-minute speech from memory without missing a beat, but stumble through reading a few words that are right in front of me? (One explanation comes from classic research by psychologist Robert Zajonc: the presence of an audience enhances performance for well-learned tasks, but hinders performance when we’re novices. We’re used to reading silently, not out loud in front of large groups, and the arousal interferes with fluent processing.)

Instead of reading a bio, I like it when introducers highlight a grand total of three or four interesting tidbits about the speaker. Here’s one of the best intros I’ve ever received: “Adam Grant is a Wharton professor who has advised leaders ranging from Google to Goldman Sachs to the U.S. Air Force. He’s the author of Give and Take, and he used to perform as a magician.”

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