I recently attended an evening function, a debate on Ireland’s economic outlook. The line up of speakers was good, worth trucking through the rain to hear. We were all set. Lights, camera, action!

 

 

MSc in Boredom!

 

The person introducing the speaker – announced himself, his title, his current role and proceeded to plough into a reasonably extensive autobiography in a rant that lasted several minutes but seemed about 18 times longer. The woman beside me quipped: “I didn’t know we were conducting a group interview”. With his list of personal accomplishments completed (‘how I saved the world and other, really interesting stories’), he expounded on economics in general and then launched into a tirade on “what specifically needs to happen in Ireland”. In the immortal words of my sister Phyllis: “If he was a piece of chocolate, he’d eat himself”. Was he sensible? Broadly, yes. Did this introduction work? Absolutely not. The audience came to see the Organ Grinder, not the Monkey. Taking ‘centre stage’ or, worse still, anticipating the speaker’s main points is the most common error in introducing a speaker. It’s a schoolboy mistake. It couldn’t get any worse than that. Or could it?

 

Black Tie:

 

Does anyone else hate ‘formal’ evenings or is it just me? The event in question was booked in the Burlington Hotel. Into the Ballroom of Death rode the 600. We looked like a colony of Penguins in a David Attenborough broadcast from Antarctica. The Guest speaker was Peter Sutherland. The ‘introducer’ ran through the list of his achievements including stints as a Barrister, Attorney General (at age 34, the youngest ever Irish AG), stints in the EU Commission and more recently, Non Executive Chairman of BP and Goldman Sachs. Then he said: “And you might think that a man with a CV like that wouldn’t have any problems”. Now that’s a perfect lead-in line for a joke or piece of Mickey-taking. It was all good fun until he delivered the punchline: “Over dinner, Peter informed that he is having a huge battle with his weight. He’s put on a stone in the past 12 months. So, we all have our problems”. We sat open-mouthed, bottom jaws resting on bow ties. Yes, indeed. Humour, if you don’t have it, don’t flaunt it. I was reminded of the quip by Mark Twain: ’Tis better to be silent and thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt about it’. When Peter Sunderland eventually got on stage, he stood behind a very thin microphone stand and opened with the line: “Can you see me OK behind this?” which brought the house down.

 

Great Introductions:

 

There are 3 simple steps in professionally introducing a speaker:

 

  1. Excite interest in the topic. Why is this stuff really important? (1 minute)
  2. Create interest in the speaker. Why is she/he great? (1 minute)
  3. Sit down, shut up and keep out of the way. Your job is done.

 

At every touch point you need to be great at what you do. Introducing a speaker is such an easy skill to master. Just avoid the classic errors noted above and make yourself look like a hero.

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