How to Introduce a Guest Speaker: Tips & Templates

“More speeches than you can imagine are doomed to fail by bad introductions…Instead of kindling fires of enthusiasm within the audience, the introductions lead to an epidemic outbreak of brain freeze.”
The Toastmaster, April 1996, p.6

(Archived October 1, 1997)

Marie Wallace has enjoyed a fulfilling career as a librarian, beginning in 1951 in academia with the University of California and transitioning in 1971 into the private law library world until her 1995 retirement from O’Melveny & Myers. she is the 1997 recipient of the American Association of Law Libraries’ highest honor, the Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award. Throughout her professional life, Marie has been a guiding force in the Southern California Association of Law Libraries, Practising Law Institute’s programs for law librarians and Teaching Legal Research in Private Law Libraries (TRIPLL).

Today, Marie has commenced on a new path she terms “Life in Progress,” which enables her to pursue a diversity of interests as a master swimmer, law librarian, trainer, storyboarder and designer of wearable art. She continues to be a dynamic speaker and prolific writer on such topics as private law library management, presentations and training. She is a member of Toastmasters International and is active with the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and in continuing education for private law librarians. She devotes her “free” time to various non-profit and civic activities. Always open to new ideas, Marie can be reached at: [email protected].

The Importance of Introductions

Knowing how to introduce a speaker is an important skill in our professional and personal lives. Everyone is expected to be proficient but most are not. Are you comfortable when asked to introduce a speaker? It is more likely you are nervous and a bit uneasy about what is expected. Does it feel like an opportunity?

Why not just let the speaker get up and start speaking? (Sometimes that idea has crossed my mind in the middle of a long, dull, and droning introduction covering every achievement in the life of the speaker and frankly, it might be an improvement.) Why are so many introductions such a drag? Bad introductions are so common that introducers mistake them for the norm and most people are ignorant of the purpose and organization of introductions.

The purpose of an introduction is to gain the audience’s attention. Members of the audience arrive individually and need to coalesce as a group. The audience may have just come from listening to another speaker on a totally different topic and are still mulling over the ideas. They may be in the middle of an interesting conversation with a friend. They may be thinking about modifying their own speech scheduled for later in the day.

A secondary purpose is to motivate the audience to listen. Just because the audience is there doesn’t mean the are ready to listen. Maybe they came to be seen, take a brief nap or escape something else. You can motivate by giving a preview of the speech from the perspective of the audience. Let them know “What’s In It for Me”–narrow the gap between the audience and the lectern.

Organization & Preparation

How is a good introduction organized? Introductions fuse three elements: the subject, the audience and the speaker. The order of the elements is not important, either can come first or last. The important thing to remember is that the focus is not solely on the speaker, it is on bringing together the three elements so they open a window.

What do you need to do to craft a good introduction? The answer is prepare, practice and be enthusiastic. These need not take long once you understand what you are doing and why. Preparation involves learning about the speaker, the topical nature of the subject and the audience’s interests and concerns. Get speaker information from the speaker. Get audience background from members of the audience and subject information from the Program Chair, the related current awareness media or your own pipeline.

When you ask for information, ask what the speaker would like you to emphasize or what the speaker thinks is relevant. Some seasoned speakers prefer to write out their own introduction. (They have experienced too many bum intros.) If a speaker provides a lengthy vitae, do not feel obligated to use it all. Shift through and pick out the things that connect the speaker with the subject and audience. In media parlance, you are preparing a coming attraction “tease”–not a eulogy.

Write out your introduction. Practice it in front of a mirror or into a tape recorder for timing. Hone it to sound natural and enthusiastic. Reduce your written introduction to a few key words and phrases. Transfer them, in large font, to a large sheet a paper. This will be your crutch and because it is there you will probably not need to look at it.

Fourteen Introduction Tips

  1. Know the speaker’s name and how to pronounce it. If it is an unusual name, help the audience learn it. “It rhymes with…”
  2. Know the speaker’s title or position. Do not turn and ask the speaker “Is it Associate or Assistant Professor?”
  3. Be brief. Aim for between one and three minutes. Five minutes is too long.
  4. Do not read the introduction. It will sound flat, unenthusiastic and convey the impression that you are unfamiliar with the subject. It is o.k. to bring notes to the lectern but keep them inconspicuous.
  5. Smile and be enthusiastic in tone, gesture and choice of words.
  6. Know enough about the subject to sound knowledgeable. Do not turn to the speaker and ask if the topic is epidemiology, epistemology or episiotomy.
  7. Announce the speech title as given to you by the speaker. If you have any questions about it, ask the speaker before the introduction. Many speakers select specific titles for a reason or for a pun. If the speaker is not using a title, make sure that your description matches the speakers.
  8. Introductions are no place to use slides, overheads or presentation software.
  9. Anecdotes are good but should pertain to the subject and be in harmony with the mood of the presentation. Avoid using canned jokes.
  10. If the credentials of the speaker are so outstanding that they must be shared with the audience or if there are publications the audience will want to know about, insert them in the program or prepare a separate commemorative handout.
  11. Introduction of a panel of speakers is the same except the introducer needs to describe the structure and format of the panel (speaking order, length of time) and the various points of view and perspectives of the panelists. The introduction of the individual panelists can be done two ways: All at once or individually as the panel program progresses. Most audiences prefer a handout with the panelists’ credentials so they can refer to it as the panel progresses.
  12. Never use the old cliche that the speaker needs no introduction. If the introduction ties the speaker to the audience and the topic then each introduction is unique, plus there is always something new about every speaker.
  13. You are the catalyst, not the performer. Do not try to upstage the speaker with your knowledge of the subject. Do not dwell on your relationship with the speaker, even though he or she is your boss, relative or significant other.
  14. Identify yourself by name and title, unless this has already been earlier. Remember the speaker also needs to know who you are.

Three Introduction Templates

“Good evening. My name is…and I will be introducing tonight’s presentation. Our guest speaker has been called a… by Time magazine and not supportive of our system of checks and balances, that she is overly concerned with revolutionary tactics rather than working within our current political system. Are those strange qualifications for a speaker about to address this Conference of…, striving to work within the system?

Ms….’s career has taken her through 25 years of study, research, teaching and administration. She holds 3 advanced degrees in…and… She has written numerous articles scientific and popular journals. As Secretary of the…under the…administration, she has promulgated more changes (as measured by pages in the Federal Register) to the regulations relating to…than in the previous 100 years.

We are all familiar with some of the reasons that the…profession is under attack. As a professional group, we are confronted with problems for which we must take some responsibility. Our speaker tonight intends to illuminate these problems and offer some innovative solutions. Please join me in welcoming…”

“Good afternoon students. Today’s class is a new format with a guest speaker. We all need to know how to drive safely, because statistically 10 out of the 40 of us here today will be involved in a serious accident sometime during our life. If we reduce accidents we save lives and lower the cost of insurance premiums–two things we are all interested in.

Larry…, is the assistant director of the State Transportation Safety Agency. He helped draft the first State legislation regarding mandatory seat belts and air bags. He has worked as Claims Manager for…Insurance Company. Larry has been a licensed driver since 16 and has only been involved in one fender bender. He credits his good driving record to having taken this class. His topic is “Arrive Alive.” Please help me welcome…”

“Ladies and Gentlemen, this audience has done more for the homeless in our community than any other local group. We can be very proud of our record. Our speaker this morning is well known to us. We know him as…and…But how many of you know that he has a hobby of raising turtles? He is President of the California Turtle and Tortoise Club and Editor of the Tortuga Gazette. Joe says he has been fascinated with the idea of carrying your house on your back since kindergarten. Always having shelter is this morning’s subject. Let’s hear what Joe has to say about “Back to Square One.”

Related Introduction Thoughts

If you are the speaker, it is acceptable to write your own introduction for the occasion. The introducer will be happy to have it and it gives you an opportunity to expand your speech and personalize your background in ways that you would be more comfortable with someone else doing.

When you are asked to speak and your introducer botches the assignment, feel free to amend the introduction with pertinent items yourself. “My interest in this subject stems from a recent harrowing experience and that’s what I want to talk about tonight so that you will be better prepared than I was to face…” “Part of my job as…is to…and it is that experience that qualifies me to be critical of…”

I like to help welcome the speaker to the podium or lectern with a friendly handshake. It disturbs me when I am in the audience and the introducer leaves the lectern and turns his or her back on the speaker. You are aiming for continuity not the big disconnect. Introductions are like giving a gift. You wrap it in colorful paper and tie it with ribbon to help create anticipation, excitement and a sense of the occasion. You do not just shove a gift into the hands of the receiver with a terse “Here” and walk off.

To gain experience introducing speakers, join Toastmasters ( or see http://www.llrx. com/columns/guide2.htm

Posted in: Guide on the Side, Presentation Skills, Program Planning