Show of hands, please. How many of you have ever attended a presentation and the person introducing the main speaker decided to do his or her own shtick?
You know, when the introducer relies on tired one-liners and insider jokes (and insults) to describe the speaker?
“She graduated from Big City University… but we won’t hold that against her.”(Ba-da-bump)
“He worked for the Ain’t It Great company for ten years. If you can overlook that, folks, then you’d probably agree he’s had a pretty good career.” (Ba-da-bump)
“He’s been married to Margaret for six years… it must be love, I guess.” (Ba-da-bump)
Oooh, it’s painful to hear such things. It really is. It tells the audience the introducer is trying too hard to be funny, and failing successfully. Audiences cringe, the graceless humor grating on their senses, steeling themselves for the next awkward zinger.
I don’t get it. Why is it some folks think insulting the person they are introducing is funny?
Now, I’m not talking about a gentle, good-natured ribbing among colleagues in situations where the audience, the introducer and the speaker all have a long-standing bond or a shared experience — say, teammates at a sports club dinner or office colleagues at a TGIF thing, where a few chuckles, even belly laughs, at another’s expense is part of a culture of camaraderie (and where the introducer knows how to do it well).
No, I’m talking about formal introductions… say, when a new member is presented to a civic or service club, or a keynote speaker is introduced to a business luncheon audience.
The key to a great introduction is to convey respect for the person being introduced.
Yes, it can be humorous. Yes, it can (and quite appropriately, at times) evoke smiles, even laughter. But there’s a thick dividing line between chuckles and insults.
Diminishing, put-town humor is a very cheap laugh. And it leaves the audience feeling cheapened, too. It suggests the presenter and his or her topic do not deserve the audience’s attention or respect.
If you’re struggling with how to keep an introduction light and frothy, invest the effort to learn a little bit more about the person being introduced. Find an amusing—and brief— anecdote about what interests him or her, or about a milestone in his or her life. Ask if you can use it (please, ask first!), then work that into your remarks. It not only can help lighten the mood of the room, it will reveal more about the personality of the speaker more positively than some put-down rim-shot about which school she attended or how awful his marriage must be.
When you finish your introduction, folks in the audience should feel they know enough about the speaker to believe he or she knows and cares about the topic at hand; that he or she brings experience and insight to the situation; that the speaker is worthy of their time and attention.
The audience should be looking forward to the speaker’s remarks rather than feeling relieved the introduction finally is over.
Remember, when introducing someone, it’s not about you. Please don’t try to command the spotlight with your imitation of Don Rickles at a Dean Martin roast (egads, dating myself there, aren’t I?). That isn’t what the audience came to hear and it shouldn’t be the memory they take away with them.