Speaker Introductions: Get Your Audience Leaning Forward Before You Speak

Heres johnny

“H-e-r-e-‘s Johnny!”  Ed McMahon’s introduction of Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show was probably the shortest but one of the most famous introductions in entertainment.

Usually, introductions need to be a little longer. Introductions fuse 3 elements:  the subject, the audience and the speaker.

Introducing a speaker

The introduction brings together those elements and serves as a bridge, a transition from one part of the meeting to another.  The audience may have just listened to a speaker on a totally different subject or may be mulling over a conversation they just had.  An introduction gives the audience time to make a mental and emotional shift.  A well-written and well-delivered introduction prepares people for the speaker, heightening their sense of anticipation. All too often a speaker introduction focuses too much on the speaker, listing out credentials and accolades . . . B-O-R-I-N-G.

Here’s one format you can try:

1. Audience-focused opening which shows the benefit, or why the audience should listen. –Ask questions (Do you want to . . .?) or make statements (If you want to . . .).  The questions or statements should speak to a need/pain that the audience has.  Follow the questions or statements with your main thesis (what the presentation is about).

2. Name and relevant credentials. You don’t have to list everything.  Write out your name phonetically if it is even a tiny bit difficult.

3. Humorous anecdote: optional, but memorable (should be very brief)

4. Takeaways preview. Whet their appetite by telling them, briefly what they can expect to get out of the presentation.

5. Title of presentation 

As an example, here’s a sample introduction for my presentation on Strategic Storytelling in Business:

Audience-focused opening 

If you want to reduce your anxiety when you speak to a group . . .

If you want people to remember your message . . .

If you want to build trust . . . then, you need to use storytelling in
your business!

Name and relevant credentials

Our presenter, Diane Windingland (Win-deen-land), is the author of Small Talk Big Results: Chit Chat Your Way to Success! and the coauthor of Perfect Phrases for Icebreakers.

Diane speaks for organizations that want their people to have
better, more profitable conversations.

Humorous anecdote

Diane started out many years ago as an engineer with awkward
conversation skills. Through life experiences, owning a few businesses, networking,
Toastmasters and improv classes she has come a long way from
the young woman who would duck into the restroom to avoid
talking with people.

Now, she follows people into the restroom, just to talk to them!

Well . . . just women. :)

Take-aways preview

Today, Diane will help you discover the power of storytelling in
business, learn some techniques for crafting compelling stories,
and begin to tell your own stories!

Title of presentation

Please join me in welcoming Diane as she presents, “Strategic
Storytelling for Business.”

You should send your introducer your introduction in advance, but don’t assume the introducer will bring it, so bring a copy.  Make sure that it is at least a 14 point font, with lots of white space and not longer than one page. Also don’t assume that the introducer has read it. Before you speak, review the pronunciation of your name and anything else that might trip the tongue.  If it is important that your introduction is read exactly as you wrote it, tell the introducer that.

Remember it’s not all about you! It’s about you, your subject and your audience. Create a more audience-focused introduction.

Create Winning Speech Habits: Don’t “Tell on Yourself”

habitsAfter finishing his speech, the young man, a high school senior in his school’s senior speech contest, rolled his eyes, shook his head and pursed his lips in that self-loathing attitude that communicates to others “I’m a little disgusted with how my speech went.”  He clearly knew that he hadn’t given his best performance.  And, so did the audience. Funny thing is that’s what I remember most about his speech—it was the very last thing he communicated.

One of the most important lessons I learned about giving a speech—don’t communicate negative feelings about your performance at the end—I didn’t learn while giving a speech.  I learned it in karate.

Part of karate training at the karate school I attended (and eventually earned my second degree black belt through in my mid-40’s), included performing forms (specified sequences of movements) “tournament style” as if we would be competing. Let’s just say I wasn’t very good and I knew it.  Early on, sometimes part-way through the form and often at the end, I would roll my eyes and sigh in disgust at my performance.  My karate instructor grit his teeth when I did that and one day told me, “Don’t tell on yourself!  If you mess up, just keep going, without reacting to it.  People might not even notice if you make mistakes.  Plus you will look more confident.”

Later, as I began to help others with their own forms, I realized that another problem with “telling on yourself” was that it could become a habit.  Any behavior, good or bad, repeated often enough will become a habit.

“Winning is a habit.  Unfortunately, so is losing.”—Vince Lombardi

So, when you are speaking, focus not on yourself, but on your audience and don’t “tell on yourself.”

Create the habit of a winning attitude.

Take Your Speaking from FREE to FEE: How to Speak at Rotary Clubs

Free to FeeOne organization that needs speakers almost every week, for 20-30 minute presentations, is Rotary International.  Rotary is a service organization with more than 1.2 members world wide. You won’t get paid to speak, but you will get great experience and you may make contacts that result in paid engagements.

When I was just starting out, I spoke to 7 Rotary Clubs in one month, polished my content and even ended up with a paid engagement because someone who was in the audience needed a speaker for a non-profit event a couple of months later.

So, how can you get booked to speak at a Rotary meeting?

1. If you know a Rotarian, let them know you would like to speak one of their weekly meetings.  Ask whom you should contact.

2. Find Rotary clubs in your area online.  Although, you may have to make initial contact via a “contact us” form, the person you want to look for is the “program chair.”  Timing does matter.  I found out the hard way that May and June are not good months to contact clubs, as their new club officers take office July 1.  But, even so, when I contacted 28 clubs via email in mid-May I received replies back from 13, 7 of which I was able to book for presentations in September.  You may see a club that is a  “Rotaract” club. “Rotaract” clubs are for members 18-30.

3. Set up a chart, if you are going to be contacting more than two or three clubs.  I used an Excel spreadsheet and had columns with the following information:  date of contact, contact name/email, club website.  You can set up additional columns for those clubs that you set up dates with:  President’s name, Program Chair name and the date/time of the presentation, location, etc.  I also color-coded the rows.  If I set up a presentation, the row was green.

4. Write an email offer to present.  Here is the one I wrote:

I am contacting you regarding offering to speak at your Rotary Club this fall/winter.  I do a few free programs as part of my overall marketing plan.

I am a local author and speaker on communication topics.  My book, Small Talk Big Results: Chit Chat Your Way to Success! was published last year.

I have 2 talks that I would suggest for your club:

    • Beyond Bullet Points: Business Storytelling (short workshop)
    • Communication Tips from Tots:  What I Learned from My Children  (inspirational talk)

Whom should I contact about getting on the schedule for Sept-December, 2011?

I will touch base with you after Memorial Day, if I don’t hear from you.


Diane Windingland

(note:  I encouraged clubs to choose “business storytelling” when they got back with me, and that’s what they all did choose)

And now for the little tips that make a difference:

-Confirm via email a few days in advance. Confirm time and location.  I had two clubs that met in different locations the week I spoke.

-Prepare everything a day or two prior to the meeting (have a checklist):

–Visit the club website and read up on their service projects or any other interesting tidbit that you might incorporate into your presentation

–Print out a map to the location (even if you use GPS)

–Have your contact’s phone number with you, just in case you get lost or stuck in traffic.

–Always bring your introduction, even if you emailed it ahead of time.  If your name is even a little bit difficult, write it out phonetically.  Above my last name (Windingland), I    wrote “Win-deen-land.”

–Bring your presentation notes and any props you plan to use

–Bring business cards

–Bring extra copies of hand-outs/promotional materials.

–Bring pens if you want them to write.  Not everybody has a pen.

–Don’t plan on using PowerPoint, unless you are bringing your own equipment. Some clubs may have a projector and screen, but many don’t. Check ahead.

–No hard selling, but if you have a product available for sale after your talk,  bring change (or a credit card reader like Square).  Don’t expect to sell much.

Come at least 15 minutes early to meet and greet the Rotarians and guests (they will feel more connected with you and you might get some more tidbits to use in your presentation).  You might not have time to eat.  Don’t bother.  You risk staining your clothes or getting food in your teeth.

Confirm the time you need to finish and do not go even 1 minute over!

It’s a nice gesture to put a dollar in their “Happy Bucks”  collection.  Be prepared to say something you are happy about.

Plan on speaking 20-30 minutes, typically 20 with time for questions.  My presentation was interactive, so I didn’t have a Q&A time.

Don’t do individual, reflective activities at the end.  People might take the opportunity to leave early.

If you have an inexpensive product that you can give away, have a drawing to collect business cards, if you feel the crowd is appropriate (At a couple of meetings, the members were largely retired, so I didn’t do a drawing.  I just gave away a couple of copies of my book for use in one of their programs).  If you do get cards, you can follow up with LinkedIn invitations to connect.  If someone connects with you and speaks highly of your presentation, you can ask for a LinkedIn recommendation.

If you want to speak more and eventually speak for a fee, start out by speaking for free at your local Rotary clubs.


Speak Up, But Don’t Upspeak!


Recently I attended a dinner event and asked a lovely young woman, a 22 year-old associate director for a local non-profit, “What does your organization do?”

She replied, “We promote ethical fashion?”

I was momentarily confused.  And not by her words, but by the way she said them, with an upward inflection, making what should have been a statement, “We promote ethical fashion” into a question.

As she continued talking to me and later as she addressed the entire audience, almost all of her statements ended with an upward inflection.

Everything is a question?

She sounded like a Valley Girl from the 80s.   It was bad enough in conversation, but when she addressed the group using what linguists call “high rising terminal,” or more commonly “uptalk” or “upspeak,” it was grating.  I couldn’t even pay attention to what she was saying because I was so distracted by how she was saying it.

While there is some evidence that leaders of peer groups can use upspeak to be inclusive and to influence (and that even George W. Bush began to use it extensively in his speeches during his presidency), to do so excessively can cause people to doubt your credibility.

And it’s not just young women who are at risk for using upspeak, according to Wikipedia this “intonation is characteristic of the speech heard in those parts of rural North Dakota and Minnesota” which have been influenced by the Norwegian language.

You may be speaking in upspeak and not even realize it.  Record yourself at your next speech and listen to your intonation.  For any declarative sentences that you turn into a question, write them down and practice saying them without rising intonation. Don’t leave people wondering, “Are you asking me or telling me?”

Speak up, but don’t upspeak!