I was preparing to deliver a keynote speech to about 1000 students aged from about 11 to 14 on the annual middle-school career day. Anyone who has presented to this age group will know that this will potentially be a tough audience. My professional speaking friends had impish smiles on their faces at a National Speakers Association of North Texas chapter meeting when I told them about the engagement, and had expressions on their faces that read “better you than me”. In addition to the keynote, I will be giving three 45 minute career guidance presentations.
The reason I am doing these career day speeches is to give back to the community. During my life I have had so many people help me out, coach me, and mentor me. Even today, I still have people mentoring me to help me as a professional speaker who wants to excel.
To make sure that my keynote speech is beneficial, educational, and entertaining for the students and teachers, I have thought carefully about what I am going to present and make sure I grab every opportunity to energize the audience. What I want to share with you is the importance of having a well thought out introduction to set the stage for a top class presentation.
The goal is to have an introduction that sets the tone of the speech and gets the audience sitting up in their seats. I want the audience to know that I am not just turning up to make some points, and that I am credible on the subject. I would also like them to know that I am going to reinforce my points with stories and humor. I am always trying to hone my introductions to let the audience know that I have had an unusually interesting life, and that I will be bringing a sense of playfulness and humor to the podium.
Here is what I have seen go wrong with introductions:
1) There is no introduction. The keynote speaker walks onto the podium and starts off with zero energy from the audience.
2) Without an introduction, the audience may wonder if the speaker is credible on the subject.
3) The introduction is put together at the last minute by the introducer. It is fumbled and the introducer rambles on and on, sucking the energy out of the audience.
4) The poorly prepared introducer makes up details, provides incorrect details, or gets the presenters name or credentials wrong.
5) The poorly written introduction confuses the audience, and they start clapping before the introduction is complete. The introducer then keeps talking as the audience claps, and the presenter arrives on the podium in a moment of mayhem.
6) The introducer does not practice the introduction with the speaker, and the following happens:
o The well thought out written introduction includes some notes for the introducer (e.g. PAUSE FOR LAUGHTER, PAUSE, EMPHASIZE THIS WORD), and the guidance notes get read out loud! Believe it or not, this actually happens.
o The humor gets lost in a sentence because the introducer does not put the correct emphasis on the right words, and does not pause at the part where the audience would laugh.
Success Strategies for Speech Introductions
1) Spend a lot of time writing and honing your introductions
2) Practice your introductions in front of family, friends, and other speakers. Ask for constructive feedback.
3) Through trial and error, understand what is working and get rid of what is not working.
4) Use your introduction to give you the speaker credibility (something that describes why your point of view is believable).
5) When using humor in your introduction, understand pauses, give the audience a clear indication of where the punch-line is, and allow them the opportunity to laugh.
6) The ending of the introduction is critical. Have a sentence that clearly indicates that this is the end of the introduction, and it is now time to start clapping. The last two words on the introduction should be your name.
7) Practice your introduction with your introducer (even coach them on projecting their voice or on using the microphone effectively. Show them how to turn on the microphone and how to keep it close to the mouth, etc.).
8) Use big a large font and put the written introduction on stiff paper so the paper does not shake visibly if the introducer is nervous.
9) Even though you may have sent your introduction to the introducer ahead of time, still bring a hard-copy to the event, as it may get lost.
10) Every introduction you develop should be filed (I have about 20 introductions that have evolved over the years.
11) Speakers routinely ask, “Where do I stand when I am being introduced? Do I stand up front or out of sight of the audience?” My preference is to be out of sight at the back of the room. I start walking energetically onto the podium (to show I am bringing vigor) when the last two words of my introduction are being read (my name). I am walking during the applause, then stand center stage, allow the applause to die down, and scan the audience while smiling. Then I start my powerful opening.
This is the introduction I am perfecting for next week’s keynote to the middle school students. My wife, a teacher, has reviewed it and provided suggestions based on her knowledge of students that age. I will make the font as big as will fit on a single page, and I will bring a copy of it with me, printed on stiff paper.
I am still trying to find some more humor to add so that I can get some energy levels going at the beginning. I want the students warmed up for laughter, since my keynote included stories from my childhood and beyond, with humorous content.
“Our speaker this morning is Dave Hill. He grew up in a very small town in Ireland. One particular school he attended had only one teacher who taught all grades. Her first job in the morning was to light a coal fire to keep the classroom warm. The school didn’t even have indoor toilets.
“Dave left home when he was 18 to go to college in Scotland, and graduated as a mechanical engineer. His first career was as an engineering officer traveling worldwide on cargo and passenger ships. This was in spite of the fact that when he was going from Ireland to England on the ferry boat for his first job interview, he got [PAUSE] sea sick! …[PAUSE FOR POSSIBLE LAUGHTER]
“Dave has had three different engineering careers with some unique experiences:
“He has traveled to 75 countries [EMPHASIS]. He even spent a year volunteering on a square rig sailing ship traveling from Australia to the Caribbean.
“He now also has his own professional speaking business.
“He met his Canadian wife in Australia and they have two children.
Please help me welcome …Dave Hill [EMPHASIS]”.
This is an introduction I have used several times, and it has good results getting audiences laughing and emitting energy. It continues to progress.
“Imagine a presenter who provides life changing ideas.
“Envision a speaker who will give you ideas to enrich your life and the lives of others.
“Unfortunately… [PAUSE] due to budget cuts we were not able to get that quality presenter [PAUSE FOR POSSIBLE LAUGHTER]
“So, today we have Dave Hill ……the engineer.
“Dave has had some unique working experiences.
“He has travelled to 75 countries… from the highlands of Papua New Guinea…… to the shores of Ethiopia… to the Pacific Islands.
“He even spent a year on a square rig sailing ship travelling from Australia to the Caribbean.
“He met his Canadian wife in Australia, and likes to tell people it’s just another one of those [SLOWLY] …Irishman …meets…Canadian …in…Australia …and …lives in Texas …stories!
“Their two kids are Irish-Canadian with emerging Texas accents and are known to start off the day with [SLOWLY] “Top-Of-The-Morning… Y’all… EH! [PRONOUNCED “A”]
“Today, he is going to help us understand how balanced fun in the workplace can increase our effectiveness and profits.
“Please help me welcome – The world traveling Irishman…Dave Hill [EMPHASIS]”