You've been chosen to introduce the speaker because you have a relationship with the audience, and it is your job to bridge the gap between the people in the seats and the person on the stage. Think of yourself as a lawyer arguing a case in front of a jury; sell the audience on what they are about to hear.
Although I have a day job over at www.SellabilityScore.com, I also get paid to speak a dozen or so times a year. I've received many generous introductions and I've also received some terrible ones. In this post, I'll share my own opinion on the dos and don'ts of introducing a speaker.
1. Do not read their bio
Standing up in front of an audience and reading a 300-word prepared bio is the best way to say "I have no idea why we picked this speaker." Your job is to speak firsthand about why this speaker has been chosen.
2. Do not ask the chairman to do it
I've spoken for a lot of banks, and their employees tend to have a hierarchical way of thinking. To a bank employee, getting the most senior person available to do the introduction is a sign of respect for the speaker. But getting an out-of-the-loop boss to swoop in and give an impersonal introduction tells the audience you don't value their time very much.
I remember one instance where I was speaking on behalf of one of the country's largest banks, and a bigwig banker from Chicago was flown in to introduce me. He read my bio in a monotone and butchered the pronunciation of my name. His introduction did nothing to help build my relationship with the audience, and it made the bank look as if they didn't respect the time of the audience enough to vet the speaker.
The more senior the person, the less time they have to devote to learning about the speaker's background. I'd much prefer to be introduced by a middle manager who knows me and believes in my message than by a CEO I've never met.
3. Do not mispronounce their name
If you have a speaker with a funny-sounding last name, ask the speaker how their name is pronounced. There is nothing that communicates better, "I have no idea who the speaker is" than getting it wrong.
4. Do not hedge your bets
Some introducers try to pre-empt a possible negative backlash from their audience by hedging. For example, the introducer might say, "Now you may not agree with what the next speaker has to say, but give them a chance to provide their perspective...."
Hedging communicates to the audience that you personally do not agree with the stance of the speaker and want to protect your relationship with the audience. If you don't like, respect, or agree with the speaker's message, don't invite them to speak. If someone else invited them, get someone who does agree with their position to make the introduction.
5. Do not turtle
Some people are so nervous speaking in public, they freeze. They go to the podium and say, "Our next speaker is ...." and scurry offstage as fast as possible. You don't need to be the world's best presenter to make a successful introduction. All you need to do is say something about why the speaker was chosen. The more heartfelt, the better.
The best introducer I've ever seen is Verne Harnish, the legendary founder of executive advisory firm Gazelles, and the conference chair of a series of growth and leadership summits around the world. He personally selects every single speaker who takes the stage at one of his events, so he doesn't need a prepared speech. He talks firsthand about why he selected the speaker, and he gives you a sneak peek into their personal relationship; for example, "I first met our next speaker when we were...." Harnish often chooses his speakers based on a book they have written, so he will pick a section that resonated with him and share his own reaction to hearing the message of the speaker for the first time.
I've been lucky enough to have been introduced by Harnish twice, and each time he set me up with a big head start. Harnish's audience knows he has chosen me for a reason and because Harnish's audience respects him, a little bit of that respect transfers over to me--which gives me just enough of a bridge to form my own relationship with the audience. What's more, Harnish builds his relationship with the audience by communicating to the crowd that he respects their time enough to handpick each speaker just for them.
Introducing a speaker may sound like a trivial task, but a thoughtful introduction will not only give the speaker a head start; it will also be a positive contribution to your relationship with the audience.