The Bad Art of the Introduction

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:

Dave Lieber is one of Texas' best speakers.

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

25 Comments

  1. Thanks for the tips, Dave. Could have used them for the AThletic Banquet LAST night. Great timing.

    Reply
  2. I laughed out loud reading this. “he’s my favorite little Jewish boy.” Oh my gosh that was so funny.

    I can just imagine a cowboy with a huge belt buckle and even bigger gut saying that.

    Reply
    • “Laughed out loud.” The three greatest words any writer ever wants to hear!

      Reply
  3. I can’t believe what people will do! WOW. Little Jewish boy. Geez.

    HAHA! I would be obsessed with intros too…. I wish I had as much humor!

    Reply
  4. Lauren, That’s what makes you the great young journalist that you are! 🙂 You are “obsessed” with the details, too. Obsession had a bad ring to it, but it’s actually about making that things are right.

    Reply
  5. Got this from Thomas up there (thanks, Thomas!), and just wanted to let you know that I’m so sold on your baloney that I’m subscribing. 🙂

    Reply
  6. Hannah, welcome to the bologna factory!

    Reply
  7. Dave,

    You were a stitch when you came to St. Stephen Presbyterian Church. We’ll have you again and we’ll chose the most inept person to introduce you….you know, to help with the Introduction Program.

    Reply
  8. Beth, do you promise? Don’t make such a wonderful promise if you can’t keep it! 🙂

    Reply
  9. Oops…since I have twice introduced you to groups…and Yes have been handed a pre-written intoduction…I feared I would see my name in there.

    I introduce lots of people and I like to make the intros from my personal viewpoint. I can only hope that I obeyed your request!!! I simply can’t remember,
    but knowing my personality, I probably threw in something more than your written word. Me bad! But I never realized how important it is to the Speaker!

    You are GREAT and thanks for the good lesson! And THANKS for writing all your interesting and informative books

    Reply
  10. Ruth, you bring up an excellent point that I did not make in the story but I should have. I think it’s great when you personalize. It brings local color. Often it works fine. The story, of course, highlighted some of my more memorable intros. But I really don’t get upset. I know the introducers are not professional speakers…. but you never know what is going to happen. Makes it kind of exciting.

    Reply
  11. Wow!!Can’t remember what I said when I introduced you, but know I and my group loved your entertaining talk. Thanks for the tips as I have a few more introductions to make.
    I’ve told my friends not to miss your upcoming visit to Dallas Lochwood Library.

    Reply
  12. I can’t wait to see everyone at Lochwood, Rocky. And thanks for talking me up.

    Reply
  13. Thanks for the speach.I think I followed your script.

    Reply
  14. Great thoughts Dave. Our OWLS Older Wiser Laughing Souls) group is looking forward to your visit September 14th. I’ll be careful and try to follow the script perfectly even though it might be difficult to do! H! You are terrific!!

    Reply
  15. Thanks for the tips. I am forwarding this to our president who introduces our speakers. Doubt that she made any boo-boos introducing you…I can’t spell faux pas! That bit about “little Jewish boy” did NOT sit well with me! I will keep these tips in mind. Good to hear from you.

    Reply
  16. I’m starting to try and remember what I said when introducing you to our IABC Fort Worth Chapter last year, but do remember you giving me a piece of paper to read. Hopefully I followed through for you and happily obliged by reading it to the audience. Actually, it was refreshing to have an introduction already prepared by the speaker to use, so thank you for that; and thank you for the helpful hints in adding interest to introductions for future speakers. You’re right…I’m not a professional speaker and I don’t even play one on T.V. Take care, Dave!

    Reply
  17. If a little Jewish boy is COWED by a DOG, perhaps he should stop HORSING around! Me, I’m CHICKEN!

    Reply
    • Good one Joe!

      Reply
  18. Dave – I can’t tell you how much we all
    enjoyed your speech. Everyone I spoke to
    thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon. You even encouraged a few men to come and that
    rarely happens. Thank you for making our
    Tablescapes a success. You are the best….
    Love you, Lynn Brien

    Reply
  19. Ha, ha! And then there was the time you forgot to bring your introduction & told me to wing it. Fortunately, we’d heard you before and knew you’d be wonderful & funny again, so you didn’t need much introduction!

    Reply
  20. And nobody ever winged it (wang it?) better than you, Kathy, dearest!

    Reply
  21. Dave:
    Thanks for the tips. Please try not to forget your intro. I fear that I will get wordy and I often mention dogs!

    Looking forward to meeting you in Oct.

    Dottie

    Reply
  22. Dave,

    Thanks for these tips! I look forward to having you speak to our group again. You were great!

    Reply
  23. Dave,

    Thanks for sharing these great tips, but I already blew it! I had no idea what I was doing. I just turned in my first Bio. I guess I’m at their mercy… Your humorous stories will make me feel better though.

    Reply

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