Article Category: Speechwriting

How to Introduce a Speaker:
16 Essential Tips for Success


Speech introductions are often an afterthought, hastily thrown together at the last second by someone with little knowledge of the speaker, their speech, or the value for the audience.

And yet, speech introductions are critical to the success of a speech.

While a strong speech opening is vital, nothing helps establish a speaker’s credibility more than a carefully-crafted and well-delivered introduction.

This article gives you a series of practical tips for how to introduce a speaker to position them with the best possible chance to succeed.

1. Answer three core questions.

When you are introducing a speaker, your primary goal is to prepare the audience and get them excited for what they are about to hear.

To do this, you must answer these three core questions:

  • What is the topic?
  • Why is this topic important for this audience?
  • Why is the speaker qualified to deliver this talk?

By addressing these three questions, you’ve given the audience a motivation for listening (the topic is important to them), and you’ve reinforced the speaker’s credibility.

2. Prepare and practice adequately.

While a strong speech opening is vital, nothing helps establish a speaker’s credibility more than a carefully-crafted and well-delivered introduction.

At all costs, avoid thoughts such as “Oh, I don’t need to prepare… I’m just introducing a speaker.”

Thoughts like that lead to stumbling, bumbling, off-the-cuff introductions which undermine your credibility and the credibility of the speaker.

You should write out (and edit) the full introduction, check it with the speaker, and practice it several times.

3. Memorize it, or minimize your notes.

Try to memorize the introduction; speaking without notes will add to your authority, and the audience will put more weight in your recommendation (that is, to listen to this speaker).

If you are unable to memorize the entire introduction, then use as few notes as you can. Be sure you can you deliver the last sentence of your introduction without notes as this will maximize momentum for the speaker.

4. Be positive and enthusiastic.

The audience takes cues from you. If you seem disinterested, they will be disinterested. If you are (genuinely) positive and enthusiastic, they will be too. Your choice of words, voice, gestures, and facial expressions should all convey enthusiasm.

So, how do you ensure you are enthusiastic?

5. Get to know the speaker.

It is difficult to get the audience excited about the speaker if you aren’t excited yourself.

If the speaker is previously unknown to you — for example, suppose you’ve volunteered to introduce speakers at a large industry event — your introduction may lack sincerity. So, get to know the speaker. Google them. Talk with them. Ask others about them. Research the speaker and their expertise until you are excited by the opportunity to introduce them.

6. Eliminate pronunciation blunders.

A sure way to undermine your own credibility and that of the speaker is to mispronounce their name, the title of their presentation, or any other key terms.

Luckily, this is easily avoided through practice and by confirming the correct pronunciation with the speaker well before the presentation. (Don’t wait until you are delivering the introduction to ask them — this looks amateurish.)

A sure way to undermine your own credibility and that of the speaker is to mispronounce their name, the title of their presentation, or any other key terms.

7. Be accurate.

Being accurate is as important as correct pronunciation, perhaps more so. Make sure you know the precise years, facts, or details.

If you make factual errors, many speakers will feel an irresistible compulsion to correct you. This is a lousy way for them to begin their speech, and will almost certainly kill their momentum.

8. Don’t alter the speech title.

Many speakers craft their presentation title very carefully, and the words matter to them. The title may be a phrase they want the audience to remember, it may reflect language used on accompanying slides, or it may be a humorous play on words.

Don’t change it under any circumstances. (And, of course, know how to pronounce it.)

9.Should you attempt humor?

In most circumstances, no. Your objective is to get the audience excited about the topic and the speaker, and this is not the time to tell humorous anecdotes about the speaker. Save those for a roast!

There are exceptions (as there are to all public speaking advice), and you’ll have to use your judgment. If this speech is part of a longer event, and the preceding talk has been particularly sad or low on energy, then it may help to lift the spirits of the audience. If you need to do this, do it early in your introduction, and then move on to the more thought-provoking content leading to your climax.

10. Don’t give an outline of the speech.

I was once introduced by someone who had seen a longer presentation I gave on the same topic two years prior. Not only did they ignore the introduction I had written for them, but they gave a detailed outline of my whole talk, including which parts were their favorites! Unfortunately, my outline had changed substantially, and they had created unreasonable expectations and sabotaged my talk.

Avoid undermining the speaker by giving too many details about the speech, telling anecdotes from their speech, or making promises about details in their presentation. It is the speaker’s job to decide how and when they reveal their outline. Keep your introduction at a high level, unless they have specifically asked you to do otherwise.

11. Stick to relevant expertise of the speaker.

One very common mistake is to recite a lengthy list of biographical details (education, awards, former job titles, publications, etc.) which may or may not be relevant to the topic being presented. This is especially common at academic conferences.

For example, avoid introductions such as:

Our speaker grew up in Seattle and graduated at the top of her mechanical engineering class at Carnegie Mellon University. She went on to earn a Master’s Degree from Duke University, and a Ph.D.  in Computer Science from Harvard. She is a member of the Automotive Engineers Association, and a two-time recipient of the Stone Award for Distinguished Linguistics Research. She was previously the Director of Research at Hasbro, and is currently the CEO for the Miami Dolphins.

Her talk today is entitled “How to Build Authentic Shaker Furniture.”

A much better introduction would touch on how many years the speaker had been building shaker furniture, whether she had been trained or self-taught, and that she had written a book on this topic.

Okay, maybe that example was a bit extreme. But, even if the speaker has a lengthy list of biographical details that are related to her talk, there’s no need to recite them all. Pick a small number (about three) that are most relevant — usually the most recent details.

Why not give all the details?

12. Don’t overdo it.

Long introductions filled with biographical details are bad for two main reasons:

  • Long introductions are boring. Nobody attends an event to listen to the introducer go on and on.
  • Long introductions are pompous. Reciting dozens of professional accolades gives the impression that the speaker cares only about himself and his ego.

Keep your introduction just long enough to accomplish your goals: [1] what’s the topic, [2] why does it matter, and [3] why is the speaker credible?

Keep your introduction just long enough to accomplish your goals: [1] what’s the topic, [2] why does it matter, and [3] why is the speaker credible?

I’m a big fan of short introductions in just about all situations. Sixty or ninety seconds is usually ample time. For really long presentations (e.g. keynote addresses lasting an hour or more), then two or three minutes may be warranted.

13. Avoid cliches.

How many times have you heard: “This speaker needs no introduction…” ? While the speaker may indeed be well-known to the audience, nearly every speech benefits from a brief introduction.

14. Avoid exaggerated hype.

Your introduction should get the audience excited about the presentation, but don’t take it too far.

For example, it is reasonable to claim that the presentation will help the audience solve a business problem, save time, or understand the complexities of tax policy.

But, it doesn’t help anyone to claim that “this presentation will solve all your problems“, or that it is “the best presentation you’ll ever hear“, or even that “you’ll be amazed by what you are about to hear“. Lofty expectations will actually have a detrimental effect, because the audience will feel challenged to prove you wrong.

15. Build to a climax.

Your vocal delivery (strength and volume) should build toward the end of your introduction. (Keep it reasonable… there’s no need to yell.) By doing so, the audience will be compelled to welcome the speaker with loud applause.

One effective way to do this is to end with the speaker’s name and explicitly encourage applause:

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming our guest speaker, Donna Primeau!

16. Ensure a smooth transition.

Know where the speaker will be as you speak your last words so that you can turn in that direction to greet them.

Etiquette dictates that you should wait for them to come to you (e.g. on the stage, or at the lectern) and then shake hands before you leave. Shaking hands is a symbolic gesture that indicates you are “handing the floor” to them.

Occasionally, the speaker may have a special entrance planned. (e.g. entrance music, a staged stunt, something with a prop) Make sure you ask the speaker about this, and do whatever you can to support them in a successful entrance.

Your Thoughts?

What tips can you share for great introductions?

What introduction blunders drive you crazy?

How long should introductions be?

Please share your thoughts in the article comments.

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Comments icon36 Comments

  1. On point 15, your readers might like to see some video illustrations on how to get ‘clap on the name’ wrong http://bit.ly/caqRG0 and how the get it right http://bit.ly/9FAWlz

    There’s also more on how to use this technique in Chapter 10 of my book ‘Lend Me Your Ears: All You Need to Know about Making Speeches and Presentations’ http://amzn.to/9C3nqx

  2. kousic says:

    to introduce a speaker the person should have a confidence voice, also have the through knowledge about the person whoom he is introducing

  3. Clyde says:

    I hope you are planning a follow up article on how to thank a speaker after their presentation. This transition can either keep their momentum going or sap the life right out of an excellent talk. The same person who did the introduction should be prepared to pick up on some of the key points and reinforce the message by making it relevant to the crowd.

  4. Clyde says:

    Oh, and one more thing. I’d like to see your thoughts on the art of handling Q&A sessions after a talk. These can be highly educational, dreadfully boring, or outright disasters!

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      How about this? Leading the Perfect Q&A

  5. Andrew, thanks for writing about this often-overlooked aspect of public speaking! As one of those people whose name is frequently mispronounced, I will underline #6. I once had an introducer who introduced me several years in a row at the same event and NEVER got my name right, even after I pronounced it for her many times. Sometimes I just had to re-introduce myself.

    The only tip I would add is to ask the speaker if they have a written intro they’d like you to use. I use a humorous intro now, specifically to avoid the boring bio/credential nonsense, and if I’m on top of my game, I actually remember to e-mail it to my introducer in advance of the event. ;-)

  6. Andrew, an important topic that coaches like me spend a surprising amount of time working on with speakers. Getting the introduction right means that a speaker is properly built up for that particular audience. The speaker then has credibility before starting and doesn’t have to brag about herself.
    I particularly appreciate your point about avoiding humor. I’ve seen far too many VPs of Marketing try to tell a silly story about spilling something on the tie of the presenter, or something equally trivial, and get lost in their own cleverness rather than put the focus on the speaker, where it belongs.
    One further tip: a presenter should shake the hand of the speaker after the intro as the speaker is moving to the stage. That helps ground the speaker, and makes a visual connection with the speaker for the audience.
    And one last thought. We often write and produce video introductions for speakers precisely to control the uncertainty that all too often means a bad introduction, despite all the effort expended.

  7. TJ Walker says:

    Great tips. I would also add: Make sure you give the audience the #1 reason why they should really want to hear from this speaker.

  8. Patricia Cotton says:

    Once again…excellent! This is what I want to let each member in my Toastmaster clubs to learn to do because they generally say something comical or try to make up something or they will read a 1/2 page bio the speaker has given them and it always truns out to be awkard, borig and ineffective.

    I generally ask the speaker to send a 2-3 sentence bio of him/her self and to make it relevent his/her speech, but they generally do not do what is asked because they want to put everything down or nothing at all because they seem to think they are not worthy of a good valid intro.

    Also many have a tendency to say “without furter ado, after an invalid introduction which tends to drives me crazy.

    (Please rest asured, I am not a polished speaker it is just that I am always learning and also impart my learing to the clubs I am in.)

    Great info from you as always and this will be my next speech at my TM clubs!

    Thank you so very much!

    Patricia Cotton

  9. Two things that are subliminal but will make the speaker appear in a power position is 1) have them come to the podium or lectern from the audience right or stage left. It adds to the first words they speak. 2) Make sure the speaker knows who will accept the lectern from them and where they are sitting. Again, shift control at the lectern with a hand shake. This closes the authority of the speaker strongly and leaves energy in the room for the next speaker or meeting closer.

  10. Thanks. Never thought about so many things whenever introduced speaker. I usually learn in advance how the speaker likes to project himself and include it in my introduction.

  11. A brief comment from Denmark. Introductions seem to be very cultural. In Denmark audiences tend to dislike lengthy introductions. We have something called the Jante Law – meaning you should not stand out – this in turn means you would avoid making the speaker shine too much.
    Actually Danes in general are terrible at introducing each other. Often in ordinary encounters between people – it does not happen at all.

  12. Write your own introduction and hand it to the person introducing you. Never leave this to chance.
    Make sure this person has good delivery skills.
    The introduction is your warm-up act.

  13. florian says:

    great! regarding #5 you could send him/her an email upfront asking about his/her greatest passion in life. once you have this information you can involve the audience right from the start by asking them: “who of you loves kite surfing?” ;)

  14. And never ever use the worn out & meaningless phrase, “without further ado.”

  15. Thanks for this great article. It will definitively help me in the Master of Ceremony role in a Toastmaster meeting.

  16. Olise Kenneth says:

    My comment is on item 11 ‘Stick to relevant expertise of the speaker’.
    While it is good to keep all comments short in public speaking, for this part especially in Africa and Nigeria particularly, speakers are more motivated to have their achievements reeled out during the introduction stage. Their achievements here are in areas of educational attainments, qualifications and key positions held. If it is too brief like one minute that you suggested, it will not be exciting at all in this environment. The Speaker will feel that you do not acknowledge is achievements. I think there is environmental difference as to what the audience and the speaker expect. I have attended conferences outside Nigeria, and I saw where speakers were introduced say moderately for about 5 minutes.

    Thank you for a job well done

  17. Anonymous says:

    What a great article. This can make a huge impact to get the audience excited about the speaker or not.

  18. Francis A. Burke says:

    Thanks for the article – very informative. I would make my number 1 item, REMEMBER, IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU!

  19. Dianne says:

    Afer reading this article, I was very surprised. I attend many conferences, lectures, and speeches, in my profession. In almost all cases, the introduction odf the speaker has included the part of step number 11 that one is suppose to NOT do. That said, it never has seemed to uninterest the audiences. I enjoyed this article and look forward to more.

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      I agree, Dianne. It is extremely common for introductions to be very lengthy and include numerous non-relevant details. Still, that does not make it right.

  20. allan says:

    i actually stumbled onto this page as a speaker who was asked “how should i introduce you”.
    This was very helpful for focusing on what to write and what information is important at that moment.
    thanks

  21. Andrew, I’ve never seen the topic covered so well, and I’ve been a toastmaster for many years. Great job!
    My question is if the speaker gives you an intro, do you just present it as given? I’ve had an emcee take my carefully crafted intro and paraphrase every sentence. Boy, was that annoying!

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Bob:

      Yes, a paraphrased intro can be frustrating.

      If the speaker gives you a prepared intro, and it follows all of the advice in the article, then I would probably present it as given.

      If the prepared intro violates one or more of the guidelines, or if it didn’t feel quite right for some reason, I’d chat with the speaker about finding the right “fit” to both fit their talk, and the event as a whole. Occasionally, there are strategically placed keywords or phrases in a prepared intro that are part of the speaker’s presentation message or brand, and they would be upset if they were changed. On the other hand, sometimes the intro can be modified. As I said, talk to the speaker and work it out ahead of time.

  22. Kent says:

    The same exact teaching from Dale Carnegie, that means it is proven. :)

  23. Andrew,
    Great post covering all the main points about how to introduce a speaker. What I’d ask you, is what would you recommend for a first timer? 16 points can be a bit intimidating.
    For me, I think over the speakers we’ve had at our public speaking club, and the two most important lessons from your list are (1) be enthusiastic and (2) build to a climax (so everyone knows its over).
    If I’ve got a rookie, giving it a go for the first time, what directions would you give them to make their introductions crisp?

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      If you are just starting with speech introductions and the entire set of advice is too daunting, my recommendation is to start with the very first point and answer the three core questions:

      What is the topic?

      Why is this topic important for this audience?

      Why is the speaker qualified to deliver this talk?

  24. Dan LaFleur says:

    Andrew,
    Regarding transition and “shake hands before your leave”, is it ok for introducer to sit or stand behind or to the side of speaker when he/she leaves? I’ve seen introducers do this and it is a distraction because they are visible and don’t sit still. Why not require introducer to sit in front row as a rule unless there is a dais with honorees, etc.? Is there a rule on this?

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      I wouldn’t say there’s any strict rule (every situation is different), but a reasonable guideline is “Don’t detract from the speaker in any way.” This would forbid things like “sitting behind them and distracting the audience.”

  25. I will introduce our guest speaker during our organization’s coronation night. My questions:
    1. Do I have to shake his hand before and after his speech?
    2. After introducing him, do I have to leave him at the lectern and sit on my assigned sit or stand behind him while he talks?

  26. picky picky says:

    I really like the tips, but can’t really tell if your misspelling of the word gaffe is intended to be humorous–a gaff is a hook used by fishermen. And it is a gaffe to use incorrect terminology such as gaff for gaffe. (smiley-face here)

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      You caught me… it was unintentional (but very ironic). I’ve updated to replace the word with “blunder”.

  27. Anna Banks says:

    Great post! Informative and to the point. I would like to ask what a speaker should do if the person who introduces him or her makes a mistake in his or her name? Thus, if the name of a speaker was not pronounced correctly, should the speaker correct it or make a joke about it?Also, can anyone provide a link to an example of a proper introduction? Thank you.

  28. Well said – I learned this 3 step approach when I was working for the Dale Carnegie organization and have used it for over 3 decades — it works people – it works – and they will remember you as much as the speaker.

  29. Carrie says:

    By not preparing to introduce a speaker is like saying the speaker is not worth the time to get to know, which sends signals to the audience with the same message, why should they listen to someone whose introduces doesn’t event care about? Take the time, learn your speaker, highlight the importance and significance of that speaker and build up the speech for the audience to be WOW’d! This is great advice I need to share with our audience on the Speaking of Wealth Show (speakingofwealth.com) where we talk to several successful authors and publishers, along with writing tips and advice to better their skills, just like you. Thanks again for the blog!

  30. hazel says:

    Iam aboutto introduce my son on sunday at church for the speaker of the hour.

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Christopher Witt (@CPWitt) @CPWitt — Jul 21st, 2014

Nothing helps establish a speaker’s credibility more than a carefully-crafted and delivered introduction. http://t.co/cBrrGCAGUj @6minutes

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@MCPSpeakers @MCPSpeakers — Jul 26th, 2014

How to introduce a speaker to your audience: http://t.co/gMLpCmsI5l #EventProfs #Speakers #EventPlanning

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@olsenspeech @olsenspeech — Sep 1st, 2014

How to Introduce a Speaker: 16 Tips

http://t.co/sMOmQ6qLn3 http://t.co/GuNf54HiMV

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@PatEMclaughlin @PatEMclaughlin — Oct 14th, 2014

How to introduce a guest speaker in a business environment:

http://t.co/Zr75jJnOUM

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@JiggyCal @JiggyCal — Nov 3rd, 2014

How to Introduce a Speaker: 16 Essential Tips for Success http://t.co/AeZh4r1rTB via @6minutes

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