By Dave Lieber
Despite what you may have heard, often the worst part of my public speeches isn't the part where I'm speaking.
It's usually the introduction.
People can't seem to get that part right. Actually, they almost always blow it. They say exactly what I asked them NOT to say a few minutes before. I know. They are not professional speakers. But all they have to do is read what's on the page I handed to them.
So I grit my teeth, take a deep breath, smile and thank them for the wonderful introduction.
More often than not, even when I ask them to pretend they wrote it, they instead say, “He wrote this introduction about himself and just handed it to me and is making me read it. It's kind of long, so anyway, here goes.”
My worst all-time introduction concluded when the introducer, reading off her index card, stated, “…. and Dave Lieber is an expert at handing out balony [sic] disguised as ‘food for thought.' And may I present Dave Lieber.”
No, you may not.
After I was done with my baloney, I picked up the card and saved it. What could be more humbling?
Here it is:
Four months ago, a man in Weatherford, Texas said, “And here's our guest. He's a Jewish boy, and, in fact, he's my favorite little Jewish boy.”
Then the other day, while preparing to speak at a Dallas church. I handed the printed introduction to the club president. I asked her not to say that I wrote it, but to pretend that it was hers. Then I pointed to the first line: “(Please ask them to turn off cell phones.”)
She said, “Our people don't carry cell phones so I don't need to say that.”
I said, “OK, you know your people better than I do. But everybody's got a cell phone these days and people hate it when they go off. But do what you want. If one goes off during my talk, though, I'm going to include you in a story that I'm writing for my speaker colleagues called ‘The Bad Art of the Introduction.' ”
She began the introduction by saying, “He warned me that I better remind you to turn off your cell phones off, so turn 'em off!” I watched as almost everyone in the room bent over to fetch their phones.
During the speech, a phone went off. Twice. (That's why Marie gets her name in this story. Hi, Marie.)
As you can tell, I obsess a bit too much over my introductions. I have different ones for different speeches. Like me, they have evolved.
They started out as credibility builders. I won the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize and the People's Choice Award, you name it. Then I heard the introduction used by Dallas speaker Christine Cashen (author of the new book The Good Stuff, Quips, and Tips on Life, Love and Happiness.) And I was never the same.
A few years ago, her intro included these lines: “Not only does she run to speaking engagements, she runs around the house as the mom to her 22 month old daughter, 3 ½ year old son and a new chocolate lab puppy. Our speaker may look familiar to you– you may have seen her on the Oprah show….she was in the 5th row of the audience on the left hand side.”
The audience is laughing even before Christine takes the stage.
Christine helped me for several weeks with my introduction. I ended up including lots of self-deprecating comments:
“Did you know a dog can help a man become a true Texan? Did you know that a stubborn native Texan dog has the right to tear the backside out of a foolish Yankee transplant?”
For another speech I give, I let the introducer tell the audience what a lunkhead I am:
Even though he's the Star-Telegram's Watchdog columnist, the introducer says, “he, too, has fallen for a few dumb scams. Don't ask him about his roofer, or his cell phone bill, or what the electric company did to him.”
You can hear the titters. Then when I get up there, I use that as a lead-in to my subject matter.
But of course, they usually don't bother to read the script. The other day, the introducer said this: “Well, everyone. I sent you an e-mail earlier this week telling you about our guest speaker today. If you read it, you know who he is. If you didn't, you're out of luck. Here, he is.”
Believe it or not, that didn't bother me. I know the truth. It could have been so much worse.
# # #
Here are some tips:
– Today's audiences expect a boring introduction so when it isn't, they take notice.
– Always keep printed copies of your introduction with you. Hand it to the introducer the moment you enter the room.
– It's OK to mention awards, but it's better to say what you won them for.
– Include humor as often as possible.
– When you are being introduced, smile, begin making eye contact with the audience and act like it's the first time you ever heard it. If the introducer ad libs a joke, make sure you react to it.
– Don't come off like a name dropper (“Jack Canfield called him the second best writer ever!”) Don't talk about your wealth or anything that might cause a barrier between you and your audience even before you open your mouth.
– Watch the eyes of your audience during the introduction. See which parts they pay attention to and which parts they don't. Eliminate the parts where their eyes glaze over.
– Oh and whenever possible, mention your dog.
This story was written for the monthly e-newsletter of the National Speakers Association/North Texas chapter. Dave Lieber, The Watchdog columnist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is the founder of Watchdog Nation. The new 2010 edition of his book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, is out. Revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards in 2009 for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber