Introducing an after-dinner speaker

speechFrom time to time we all get ‘volunteered’ into introducing an after-dinner or guest speaker at an event. Over the years, I’ve been introduced myself a few times in ways that make me cringe. Over time, I have evolved an approach myself which I usually find is perfectly adequate and avoids many of the painful faults that some people seem prone to.
  1. Remember that, for the next few minutes, the audience are there to listen to the speaker and not to you. There is absolutely no excuse for delivering a speech of your own.
  2. The same is true for jokes. You are here to introduce, not to entertain the audience.
  3. To read the biographical notes of a speaker straight from the page, not only makes you sound like an idiot, but is also incredibly disrespectful to the speaker.
  4. In just the same way that most male business people no longer wear ties, so addressing the speaker with all their titles is generally something that can be dispensed with. Sometimes, NOT using titles can even create a sense of intimacy that can lead to a more engaging conversation.
  5. There ARE three things that need communicating;
    1. The name of the speaker, as there may be people who actually don’t know.
    2. What it is about them that has led to them being invited.
    3. What the speaker has said they are going to speak about; not what you want them to speak about, or think they are going to speak about, but a short title distilled from their letter of acceptance or conversation with them immediately before they stand up.
  6. Often, you need very little preparation to deliver a succinct, but information-rich, introduction to a speaker – frequently a few notes while the table is cleared are all that’s needed.

Let me give you a few examples.

“It gives me great pleasure to introduce this evening’s speaker. The Costa Rican diplomat, Christiana Figueres, has been the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC since 2010. Her experience in the field is extensive and I am sure that she will draw on this tonight, however it was the most unusual fact that four members of her family have been involved in international politics and diplomacy, and that she has studied Gestalt systems and social anthropology, which led us to invite her to explore the nature of civic responsibility and family dynamics. Ladies and gentlemen, I present Christiana Figueres.”

“As Home Secretary since 2010, Theresa May, has frequently had to take tough decisions – she never shrinks from doing what she believes is right and is always prepared to be held to account by the public, the press, and even the courts. It was with this in mind, that we invited her, and she kindly accepted, to speak on the changing nature of political service in the internet age. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present, The Right Honourable Theresa May.”

“Chief Scout, ‘Bear’ Grylls, is the quintessential modern adventurer, presenter of more than ten TV series, passionate charity fund-raiser, and a committed Christian. In August 2010, Grylls led a team of five to raise awareness of the effects of global warming by taking an ice-breaking, rigid-inflatable boat (RIB) through 2,500 miles (4,000 km) of the ice-strewn Northwest Passage. Too often we hear of the lack of ethics among modern business leaders, and with that in mind, we invited Mr Grylls to join us this evening to help explore the need for a new style of leadership for the 21st Century.”

Best wishes