The Benefits of a Good Conference Introduction

Many technical conferences have no speaker introductions or very poor introductions.  “Next up is, um *look at phone* Aaron who will be talking about, um *look at screen* The Next Big Thing”.  While this does serve the benefit of helping people make sure they are in the room they intend to be in, it doesn’t do anything to help the crowd get ready for the talk or help the speaker get ready to deliver a talk.  A good introduction on the other hand gives the speaker ethos.

Ethos is one of three components of persuasion that Aristotle identified in his treatise Rhetoric. Ethos serves as the ethical appeal.  It’s the standing a speaker has.  A good introduction explains not who a speaker is, but why they have the privilege of standing up there and presenting. When you introduce a speaker, you give them credibility. This allows them to immediately focus on logos and to a lesser degree pathos. These are Aristotle’s categories for logical and emotional appeals.

At WordCamp NYC 2014, I introduced Boone Gorges, the keynote speaker.  Let’s breakdown my introduction:

At WordCamp NYC 2010, John James Jacoby introduced our next speaker as a core committer to BuddyPress. Today, I get to introduce him as the lead developer of BuddyPress and our keynote speaker.

I am establishing him as someone with a history at the event and as someone with a prominent place in the community.

During the intervening four years, he has become a full time freelance developer, released dozens of free plugins to the WordPress community and has spent thousands of unpaid hours doing development work contributing to open source software projects.

Boone’s talk was going to focus on contributions to WordPress and the role that freelance developers have in the creation of WordPress. By mentioning his work as a full time freelancer and his contributions to the WordPress project, he can be seen right away as someone who knows about the topic. He has lived it.

He has accomplished all of this while also finishing 46th in 2014 National Crossword Tournament.

I knew that one thing Boone would mention was that he had been in the room this address was before, so I helped him establish this by mentioning his excellent placement in the National Crossword Tournament.

He secretly wishes that he has a masters degree in philosophy. He also grew up in Wisconsin, which is known more for its cheese and beer than the semi-pro football team that plays in Green Bay.

Boone isn’t just a developer, he is a person and someone who has studied philosophy. He also likes a bad football team 😀.

Please join me in welcoming our keynote speaker, Boone Gorges.

I create the expectation with the audience that we are beginning.  That I am leaving so they should cheer.

If you are planning a conference, you should spend some time thinking about the introductions.  If you don’t know the speaker well enough, perhaps you can ask them to write a first draft.  If you don’t know why the speaker is going to be getting up there, perhaps you should ask yourself why they are speaking at your event.

One thought on “The Benefits of a Good Conference Introduction”

  1. Regardless of whether introductions are given — and be it good or bad — I think everyone can agree that the speaker should be aware of what to expect before their session — so they don’t waste a slide and plan on a self-introduction when they’ll be getting a solid intro from one of the organizers — and then look silly for it.

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