Late in March, 2008, my sister Margaret and I headed to UCLA to spend an evening listening to Elizabeth Gilbert and Anne Lamott. At the time, Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love was holding a spot on the NY Times best seller list that lasted for a whopping 187 weeks.
The book also caught Oprah’s eye and she devoted two programs to it. Gilbert was the media’s literary darling of the moment.
Lamott, on the other hand, had been quietly building a loyal fan base for over a decade. I had seen her years earlier at a small independent bookstore in St. Paul where a handful of her fans came to spend an evening with her.
As a fan of both of these authors, I was thrilled to be able to listen to them in person.
The program opened with someone from UCLA welcoming us. I don’t remember much about that but am guessing we were thanked for coming, told that we were in for a fine evening and asked to give a warm welcome to the first speaker, Elizabeth Gilbert.
Despite that wretched introduction, Gilbert walked out on the stage and promptly won us over by telling us how excited she was about her new boots. Then she charmed us with stories for half an hour or so.
At the end of her talk, she introduced us to her companion speaker. Gilbert told us how honored she had been when Anne Lamott agreed to write a cover blurb for Eat Pray Love. She confessed that on learning the news, she’d celebrated by drinking two margaritas and eating a bag of Halloween candy.
What I remember most about that introduction, however, is that Gilbert told us the two of them had first met 20 minutes before the lecture was to begin. She sounded slightly star struck.
Then she said, “If she had not done this, there wouldn’t have been a path. She proved to the world that you can write about divinity in a way that does not make intelligent people want to projectile vomit.”
That personal introduction had the entire auditorium anticipating what was coming next. Every speaker should be so fortunate.
Sadly, great introductions are all too rare.
(I confess, however, that my most memorable introduction came from a woman who showed up drunk to a singles’ event. After rambling on about her sex life, fellow organizers convinced her that I had to leave and needed to take the stage.
She pulled herself together and said, “Our speaker tonight is Barbara Winter and we’re lucky to have her because she agreed to talk for half her regular fee.” The audience was so embarrassed that I could have read from the Yellow Pages and they would have given me a standing ovation.)
Should the time come when you find yourself in a position to introduce someone to an audience, take your assignment seriously. Whether the person being introduced is as well known as Gilbert and Lamott or not, your job is to get the audience ready to pay attention.
This is true whether they’re reading an interview on your blog or sitting in a hotel meeting room. Reciting the facts won’t cut it. The best introductions share a personal story.
Why are you excited to bring this person to your event? How have your lives intersected? What difference did this person make?
Whatever you do, never, never, never say, “So and So needs no introduction.” Of course, they do. Otherwise why are you standing there taking up our time?
The same holds true when you are introducing yourself on your website or marketing materials. Stories trump facts every time.