Goodbye to long presentation introductions

Having presented on multiple occasions and having organized several events, I have experienced both successful and less successful speakers’ introductions. In this day and age a good introduction might be simpler than it seems and especially taking into account tip nr 3 will avoid running into issues:

  1. Be introduced: of course no one can introduce you and the topic you are talking about, better than yourself. However, introducing one-self has several disadvantages. Firstly it might be challenging to avoid the impression of bragging. Calling oneself “an industry expert” might give the wrong impression to the audience even when there is sufficient evidence to back this up. On the other hand you don’t want to down sell yourself and be too humble. Therefore, don’t fall into the trap of “self-introduction” and ask someone of the organizing committee to be the chairman of the day and introduce you. This has the advantage that it results in a natural transition between the introduction of the speaker and the start of the content of the presentation itself.
  2. Give the chairman some bullets, not a full spec: everyone wants to play his role in life and the role of the chairman is to engage the audience before your presentation starts. When you fully spec the introduction he is supposed to give, you blow away all the creativity and excitement the introducer might have had. Instead provide some bullets (e.g. topic of the day, why you are presenting it, and why it is relevant for the audience), so he has the opportunity to give his own twist to the intro. Fully speccing what should be said about you, not only comes across as very controlling, but might also remove all the interest of the introducer for the remainder of the presentation. Keep in mind that having a good relationship with the chairman can be a huge advantage, in the Q&A setting after the presentation has finished.
  3. KISS (keep it SHORT stupid): in the old days of no internet and limited information, a generous warm welcome to the speaker was rightly justified. However times have changed, and nowadays most information can already been found elsewhere -> when your audience is interested in your background, where you grew up, what you studied and your career path, they are more than able themselves to figure this out. You should be confident that when talking to the right, and interested audience, most people have already checked your background when signing up for your talk (otherwise you might be in the wrong setting). Repeating things that can be found on the internet is therefore a waste of everyone’s time: the audience probably already knows your background, and when they are not impressed by it, they would not have signed up for your presentation anyway. Therefore, limit yourself to a couple of bullet points, and start with your story straight away. When people want to know more about you, they can either contact you directly after the presentation or by other means such as email or LinkedIn.
  4. Don’t abuse job titles: I have experienced quite some presentations in which people were keen to mention there job titles in their intros but when it actually came to the story itself it became rather unclear how relevant this was to the topic. Being a CEO or other chief might imply you are extremely knowledgeable in a particular area, it might also imply you are likeable, good in office politics, or just plain lucky! A title itself doesn’t make you an expert and when looking at LinkedIn these days it seems like almost everyone is a director somewhere. Therefore only use job titles when relevant to the topic: e.g. when you are a CEO of a software company that you built from the ground (e.g. you even wrote the code itself), mention it. On the other hand when you are CEO of a bank and have previously worked in politics and have acquired your role through networking, it might be better to leave the job title away all together. Setting too high expectations at the start of a presentation and not being able to fulfill them is one of the most common presentation downfalls. Don’t claim fame at the start and then not be able to live up to it.
  5. Use scholarly success and hobbies only when linked to the subject: your audience is interested in the topic you are presenting not necessarily that you excel in other fields. So the fact that you finished your degree in rocket science with distinction is a great achievement: however when your presentation is about leadership this does not necessarily imply it makes you a great leader. The same is true for hobbies: that you are a great triathlon athlete in your spare time is nice background information but not useful to know when your presentation is about climate change. Only mention hobbies when relevant to the topic (in this example, when you realized the impact of climate change on people’s lives when doing triathlons in different parts of the world, mention it. When this is not the case, leave it out).

But the key point is to remember that times have changed: long intros are both unnecessary and annoying so really stick to the basics and jump into your story as quickly as you can!


About Servaas Houben

I am a Dutch actuary and worked in the Netherlands for the first 4 years of my career. Thereafter, I worked for 2 years in Dublin and 4 years in London. I am now heading the actuarial department of ENNIA in Curacao.
This entry was posted in "Soft skills" or whatever you want to call them!, English, Presentations and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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