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On Introductions

Well, I have three or four speaking engagements scheduled in the near future, and so the organisers of these events have been getting in touch with me and asking for information they can use when they introduce me.  I’ve always struggled with this, and so, after careful consideration, this was the last self-description I emailed to an organiser:
Dan O. is smarter than you, better in bed than you, more socially active than you, and he is not afraid to kiss your woman and kick your ass.
Of course, I’m just having a laugh (although I’m not sure if the person I emailed this to will find it funny…), but is this really all that different than what is said when we are introduced at these kinds of events?  Don’t we just find more socially acceptable ways to talk about how awesome we are?  In particular, aren’t we expected to describe ourselves as ‘experts’ or as somehow superior to the people who will be attending the event?  (The assumption being that people wouldn’t bother listening to somebody who is a non-expert, or to somebody whom they perceive of as inferior.)
Of course, the point of an introduction is twofold.  An introduction is intended to (1) give the audience some insight into who the speaker actually is; and (2) explain how the speaker is connected to the topic at hand.
However, the problem with this is that the more connected the speaker is to the topic, the less connected the speaker becomes with the audience.  I am not saying that this makes the speaker less exciting, but I am saying that it makes it less likely that what the speaker says will have a significant impact beyond the event itself.
Thus, for example, when I am asked to speak at an event, it is usually somehow related to some combination of biblical theology and community activism or social justice concerns, or whatever you want to call it.  However, should I be introduced with a list of things I’ve done related to these things (thereby establishing my connection with the topic), then a divide will have been created between me and those in attendance.  Consequently, the foundation is laid for people to respond to my talk by saying, “Wow, that’s really interesting!” while simultaneously failing to connect the talk to their own daily practices — because, you know, the introduction makes me look like I’m some sort of ‘radical’, while the rest of them are just average Christians trying to make the best of it… or something like that.
So, my increasing concern with introductions is not how to establish my connection with the topic, nor is it with defending my expertise.  Increasingly, I want to be introduced in ways that connect me, personally, with the people with whom I am speaking.  Then maybe people will be enabled to start making the connections between the topic at hand and their own daily lives.
Any thoughts on this?

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  1. This is a difficult subject. You do want to appear knowledgeable, but at the same time, you don’t want to seem like you are somehow “above” your audience. I wish we could say something ideal like instead of having big speaking events we could just sit down with a group of people and talk about how things should be done, but that is not very feasible and not very effective. I don’t know. Perhaps the church is called to be less effective…
    I’m not saying speaking is bad, I’m just saying that sometimes just talking would be better and that would definitely be at their level. I was reading a post somewhere else where someone was talking about AA and why we don’t do church more like an AA meeting (where interaction from the audience is key and the person in front is just “a person” like everyone else). Here’s the link to that article. I personally found it very helpful:

  2. As one who often has to do the introducing (and who has to introduce YOU very shortly), I’ve come to think of my words as those of recommendation… Usually our speakers are known folks from within the community, so it’s lesser known folks or visitors who I end up introducing, and it becomes important to me to give people some sort of link so that they realize this person is “one of us.” Hence, our little interchange re: your intro for Tuesday was so helpful. I do wish you’d sent me the intro quoted though…except that I’d have been tempted to use it!

  3. You’re smart to want an introduction that connects you to your audience. People will listen closely to someone to whom they feel connected. If you want an introduction that connects you to the audience, then consider who your audience will be and how you are connected to them, and just use that.
    There is no rule that says you have to talk about what you’ve done at the beginning. Besides, everyone enjoys a bit of intrigue. Let them ask you about your experience after the presentation, once your talk has moved them into wanting to know more.
    Your flip suggestion, while funny, is a cop out if you really mean to deliver a message.
    Why is the talk important to you, and to your audience, in 30 seconds or less? There’s your introduction.
    Best of luck!

  4. What you are pointing to is the difference between a resume and a biography. Biographies connect people. Resumes connect us with topics. Have the introduction briefly explain how you got into/interested in the topic, a small piece of your life’s connection with it. Since the audience is there to get interested themselves, there is instant connection. Say something about getting kicked out of your parents house, or meeting your first street-involved person, or some other common even that was a turning-point for you to set you on your path.
    Or…go with what you’ve written. It’ll get a laugh and people will have their guard down for what you have to say.

  5. Or you could go the other road, something like:
    “Dan O. is not someone you would likely spend your valueable time with, his hair smells like a wet dog, he curses in front of children, he has no time for stupid people, and he doesn’t donate blood.”
    Not that any of these are true or anything 😉 but just the other end of the spectrum of bragging.