Granted, they probably won’t realize it, but one of the worst things you can do for your panelists is introduce them.Why? Not because of the excellent chance that some beloved part of the panelist’s bio will be mispronounced or omitted, leaving the person cranky and distracted. No, introductions are a terrible idea because, no matter how accurate and/or flattering, they drain the energy out of the room. They take too long and turn an audience’s eager anticipation into boredom and restlessness.
They can cast a pall over the panelists as well, especially if they’re not veteran speakers. In normal conversation, people’s inclination is to speak in a tone similar to that of the preceding speaker. If the predecessor is solemn, one is inclined to speak solemnly; if loud and boisterous, one’s inclined to jump in with a shout. Introductions are usually read from notes, in a straightforward manner, and rarely in a tone that commands attention. Then the panelists are left with the heavy lifting of shifting to a snappier, spontaneous, higher-energy tone.
Leaving the panelists to introduce themselves is a little better, but only a little. Once again, this risks becoming long and boring. Some panelists might be willing to introduce themselves with just a name and title, but as soon as a one of the panelists says, “I’m So-n-So, and I’m incredibly excited about being here because . . . ,” every panelist that follows will feel obliged to add some feel-good padding. Before you know it, 15 minutes or more have passed and the conversation hasn’t started.
What to do instead? Biographical information about the panelists should be conveyed before the event starts, in the conference binder or website. At the event, leave a one-sheet with brief bios on each audience seat. Alternately, if the location is set up for it, have a set of slides with a photo, title, and one interesting fact about each panelist loop while audience and panel members take their seats. (Run the slides in the order in which the panelists will be seated, from audience’s left to right.)
It is important to hear each panelist speak before the discussion starts, to test the audio. The moderator should ask each panelist to give his or her name and title for that purpose. (The purpose matters; the person inclined to speak at length in response to “introduce yourself” is much less likely to do so for a mic check.)
If the panel is small and the person doing the introductions spectacular, one might choose to ignore this advice. But make sure that whoever does the introductions understands that his or her primary task is not to convey biographical information about the panelists — it’s to warm up the audience for them.