Most introductions are soon forgotten but some are so unusual or potent to be memorable. My favorite is an ingenious and well-improvised introduction made by Dr. Robert Schuller, pastor of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. He tells about it in his book, Prayer: My Soul’s Adventure with God.
Before he even started his giant church, he began preaching at a drive-in theater. Congregants could drive in to the parking lot and listen to his sermon through speakers on the posts next to their cars while Schuller preached from atop the snack bar roof-top. In order to attract a large crowd and get people to come to a drive-in theater to worship, he in-vited the best-known preacher he could think of, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, to speak one Sunday.
Peale accepted and the crowds arrived, lining the streets and overflowing the 1700-car lot. Schuller had everything he wanted for this momentous day — hundreds of people, Dr. Peale, a sunny sky — except for one important item: the written introduction he had planned to use in presenting Dr. Peale. Even though he was unprepared to introduce one of the most popular speakers in the world, he did not panic but pulled off a good introduction.
I prayed silently, What do I say, Lord? … I listened. God answered. Out of my mouth came these unthought-of words: ‘Ladies and gentlemen. We have with us this morning — live and in person — the best Positive Thinker in the world today. His name is a household word. His words? Many of us have been inspired by them. If you get to meet him personally and know him as a friend like I do, you’ll never be the same. His name? The greatest Positive Thinker alive today — Jesus Christ. And here to tell us all about him is Norman Vincent Peale.’
Like Schuller, have you ever had to introduce a speaker and wondered what to say? Or, worse, have you ever been the speaker and wished you had written your own introduction instead of hearing the one someone else made in presenting you? A poor introduction can leave your audience flat but a good one can make them eager to hear you. That’s sufficient reason for every preacher to prepare an introduction of himself for every group where he speaks and isn’t known.
Do You Really Need an Introduction?
I began to think of preparing my own introductions a couple of years ago when I was the guest preacher in a church where no one knew me. A staff member there called me a few weeks before I was to preach and asked me to send my resume so he could prepare his introduction of me.
Much to my surprise, when I arrived at the church on the day I was to preach, I looked in the program for that morning’s order of service and found printed on a separate sheet, front and back, my complete resume listing all the schools I’d attended, every job I’d ever held and all the other information I’d put there! In the introduction the staff member had only to refer the congregation to my resume and say, in effect, “Here he is”! It wasn’t much of a kickoff. I’m just glad that I hadn’t included my weight on my resume! Throughout my sermon I wondered how many people were still reading it.
Many of us are often guest speakers in other churches or in groups outside our churches. And every time we speak to a group which doesn’t know us, someone is our herald. Most often these introducers tell the audience about our academic background, our occupation, achievements, present position and maybe something about our family. Like most speakers, I’ve usually given little thought to my introduction, whether I’m presenting a sermon, a devotional, a testimony or a speech. But after my introduction above and hearing some bad introductions, I’ve learned to give them more thought.
You may be wondering whether an introduction is really very important. After all, how much harm can a bad introduction do? The answer: probably not much. Our audience will likely blame the introducer for a poor introduction and give us a fair hearing anyway. But bad introductions can have negative consequences for us, even if only minor ones. I have a friend, a male, who was once introduced to a very conservative audience as a member of a “sorority” in college. When he got up to speak, he thought of only two alternatives in his dilemma. Even if he had corrected his introducer with humor, softening the blow, he still would have brought attention to his ignorance. He didn’t want to do that. So he said nothing about the mistake and let people in his audience who knew the difference between fraternities and sororities. He didn’t want them to think he was, shall we say, unusual.
A few introductions people have made for me have been so saccharine and laudatory that some in the audience must have wondered, “Who does this guy think he is?!” None of these mistakes was fatal but they were unnecessary distractions at best.
Stranger introductions have been made. Here’s one.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a guest speaker today. I just met him so I don’t know a lot about him but he showed me his resume a few minutes ago. He’s from somewhere downstate but he’s lived here for six years. He has a wife and three children but they aren’t with him today. He went to school up north somewhere and to seminary out west. He sang in the seminary choir and was once a student of the year. He’s pastor of the New Hope Church over on 43rd Street, near the shopping center down by the old railroad depot. Here he is.
How’s that for an opening?! It’s confusing; it has vague and irrelevant information; it’s boring and the audience doesn’t even learn the speaker’s name. About the only positive thing about it is that it’s brief! I know that it sounds a little silly too but, believe me, I didn’t create it from imagination alone; I’ve heard introductions that were just as bad. If you were sitting in the audience preparing to hear this speaker, what would you think about him? Nothing in the introduction would make you enthusiastic to hear him. That’s just the problem with poor introductions. They present us poorly.
An introduction is part of our presentation. Introductions can warm an audience to us or can leave them cold. They can help build rapport with an audience or can turn them off. Some audiences may be prejudiced against us; in that case, a good introduction can help overcome that barrier. It can lift an address, helping it get it off the ground. Or it can leave an audience confused and bewildered, leaving the speaker with a more difficult job of winning over his listeners.
When you are a guest speaker, part of the impact of your presentation is in your introducer’s hands. He’s not only introducing you but, more important, what you have to say. If he does not present you well, you may have some roadblocks to clear with your audience before they begin to listen and trust you. Inevitably, those roadblocks will take away some of your impact, especially at the critical beginning of your presentation.
So why not write your own introduction? Why not use it as a positive part of your presentation? With your own introduction you have more control over it. With your own introduction you can have yourself presented in the way you want to be presented. Instead of leaving your introduction to someone who may do poorly, you can tell your audience who you are, you can tell them what qualifies you to have their confidence and you can begin to build rapport with them. Here are some suggestions for doing that.
Write Your Introduction
These are some ideas that may help you write an introduction that will improve your presentation.
1. Make it brief. A good introduction doesn’t have to be long or elaborate. Simpler is usually better. If it’s simple, it’s less likely to sound as if it should be accompanied by a fanfare. I’ve been embarrassed by some introductions others have used in presenting me, reading a litany of items from my resume. A little of that goes a long way; a lot of it may seem like bragging, giving your audience a negative impression of you.
2. Make it relevant to your audience. We should really think of introductions, plural, not singular. One introduction won’t fit all occasions and audiences. Find a “hook,” some way of connecting with your congregation or audience.
Think of the different places where you might speak: another church of your denomination or another denomination, a service club, a jail, a rescue mission, a senior citizens’ group or a youth group. Each setting demands a different emphasis in your introduction. While the Rotary Club may be impressed with your list of academic degrees, the men at the rescue mission probably won’t care. And in some places, just your name and job title may suffice.
I recently returned to a church where I had been pastor twenty years before. The person who was to introduce me knew nothing about me so he asked me to write an introduction for him. I wrote some facts he could use, mostly information I thought this audience — mostly friends and former parishioners–would like to know. I cited the years when I had been pastor at that church; the name of the church where I had gone afterwards and the number of years I had been pastor there; the fact that I had returned to my home town recently with my family to restore our old family house; the church where I’m pastor now and comments about my wife’s and my sons’ current interests. At the top of the card I wrote their names so he could read them as he pointed them out to the congregation. That introduction wouldn’t be as appropriate anywhere else.
3. Make it interesting. Facts and figures alone can be tedious. Be specific but don’t be dull. Add life and personality. To say that “Rev. Smith has been pastor of two inner-city churches in Georgia and Kentucky which have sponsored a halfway-house for teenagers, a group home for unwed young mothers and a homeless shelter” builds much more interest than “Rev. Smith has been pastor of two churches which have been involved in some missions projects.”
4. Make yourself credible. If you’re going to speak to a group with a special interest or focus, ask yourself before you prepare your introduction, “What makes me qualified to speak to these people about this subject?” This step won’t be so critical if you’re preaching or speaking to a general audience, of course. Simply identifying yourself and providing a little relevant information will probably be enough. But if, for example, you’re going to speak to a veterans’ group on Memorial Day, citing your military service record in your introduction would help establish your credentials.
5. Leave out unnecessary information. Does your audience really need to know your wife’s and children’s names, your hobbies and where you went to school? If you’re going to be talking about family issues, referring to your family would be helpful. If you’re going to tell how people can juggle work and leisure time, then referring to your hobbies will be relevant. Try to tell your audience what you’d like to know about yourself if you were one of them.
6. Tell your title and topic. Do this near the end of your introduction so that your audience will be better able to remember your subject. Even if the title of your sermon or address is printed in the program, still have it spoken. It tells what people should listen for when you get up to speak, building anticipation.
7. Tell your name. What you say is more important than who you are but telling your audience who you are helps to build another bridge to them. Along with your title and topic, your name should come near the end of your introduction.
8. Prepare the introduction in writing. Type the introduction on a card or on one piece of paper. This will make the introducer’s job easier.
Communicate with Your Introducer
Your introducer can help or hurt your presentation. If you can help him to help you, you stand to do a better job.
1. Consult your introducer before the program begins. Even if you have talked to your presenter by phone or met him several times before you arrive at the place where you’ll speak, give yourself plenty of time with him before your presentation. This meeting will help both of you to have a common understanding of what you need in your introduction. I read recently about a speaker who arrived late for his speech and had time only to give his introducer a card with his introduction printed on it as the introducer approached the lectern. While the audience waited, the introducer whispered to the speaker, “What do I do with this?” The speaker told him, “Read it.” The introducer did just that: he read it to himself and then replied, “Now what do I do with it?” “Read it to them!” the speaker told him.
Many speakers will feel uncomfortable instructing their introducer but if you have prepared an introduction that you think will be especially effective, proceed. Discuss the introduction with your introducer before the program begins so that both of you know what he will say about you. Consider his suggestions, if he has any, because he probably knows your audience better than you do.
You may decide to ask the introducer to read your introduction just as it is written. If he has particular comments he wants to make in addition to your introduction, discuss these and decide where these would be appropriate. If he seems particularly nervous or uncertain about making an introduction, you may need to coach him. You might even want to tell him, “Please don’t tell the audience, “The speaker gave me this introduction to read to you.'” (It’s been done before!) If he does, he will make both of you look like amateurs.
If your name or any other words in your introduction might be difficult to pronounce, make sure your introducer can pronounce them correctly. Also, ask that your introduction be made as close to your presentation as possible.
2. Bring an extra copy of your introduction with you. Even if you’ve mailed a copy of your introduction to your introducer beforehand, bring a copy with you. He may have lost the original or someone else may be introducing you instead.
3. Learn what will happen immediately after you finish speaking. If you’re preaching, are you expected to stand before the congregation during the altar call? If anyone comes forward and needs to be introduced to the church, who will do that? Will another speaker follow you? Will announcements be made or an offering taken? One Sunday evening when I had finished preaching in a church, I stepped in front of the pulpit for the altar call only to remember quickly that that church didn’t offer altar calls in their Sunday evening services. The music leader noticed my mistake immediately, called on the congregation to sing a closing hymn and avoided embarrassing me.
One visiting preacher was caught by surprise when, after his sermon, he was handed a box of ribbons and informed that he was to give them to children who had won some church awards! Learn in advance what you are to do when you finish speaking.
Most introducers will do a worthwhile job of introducing speakers and preachers but, by preparing our own introductions and planning the introduction with the introducer before the program begins, we can help them help us communicate with our audiences.

Share This On: