Crush it at the podium

Credit: @kanereitholdsen on

Crush it at the podium

Despite our preference for more relaxed business environments, there will still be times in our careers (particularly in corporate jobs or large groups) when we’ll need to get behind a podium to introduce a speaker or give a presentation of our own.

I find the speaker introduction the most difficult to master although it is the shortest in length. Why? This role is generally a byproduct of a sponsorship or some other paid/official reason. You stand between the official host/convener of the event and the main (read: most interesting) speaker. We’ve all probably sat through five minutes of cringe-worthy introductions and likewise we’ve also probably witnessed a graceful two-minute introduction from someone who is comfortable in her own skin and who has mastered the art of the intro. (Envious.)

For me, evolving from awkward moments to polished presenter involved a few small tweaks to my style and a greater awareness of the substance (and noise) behind it.

My cringe-worthy moment
In 2011 I had just accepted a role in a new organization. The company was in the throes of transition and my boss left less than a month after I arrived. I was offered his job, and accepted. Both an exhilarating and chaotic time, I juggled the good with the bad. As part of our organization’s sponsorship of a women’s business advisory board and as the newly-installed office leader, I was offered a spot in the group. As a perk of sponsorship I was allowed introduce the main speaker at three events per year. Unfortunately my first time up at the podium was preceded by two weeks of general office meltdown: four employees leaving, a portfolio of clients on the warpath and a general haze of negativity surrounding our company.

I took all that negativity, internalized it, and skulked up to the podium. I had spent all my mental energy just getting there and being okay with the public-facing role that I had neglected to do enough research on the speaker. I didn’t have an interesting tidbit beyond her bio, a personal connection or a link to a current trend. Unwittingly and by not stepping outside my own thoughts, I made it all about my company and our crisis. I didn’t have enough conviction to deliver a crisp one-liner about our organization’s commitment to women leaders and the local business community, either.

It’s hard enough to be dazzling in this awkwardly-placed role, but this was a disaster: not only had I missed an opportunity to represent the organization well but I had neglected to represent myself well. I’m sure I was apologetic, flat and generally uninspiring. While I’m sure no one saw it as an epic fail, no one was admiring me either.

And then I crushed it

A year later, after the initial turmoil had settled and we had even dealt with a big merger in the meantime, I had my next opportunity to introduce a guest speaker. This time I happened to know the speaker as we were tangentially connected in my previous job. From memory, my intro went something like this:

“Thank you all for joining us today. It’s great to see you all out on this gorgeous morning. I’m Meghan Gross with [insert company and descriptor] and today I have the absolute pleasure of introducing a true leader in the Boston business community. I have a personal anecdote connected to today’s speaker, because I had the opportunity to meet her waiting for the elevator at [last job]. While we hadn’t been formally introduced, I took it upon myself to make a connection and we chatted until our respective stops. I returned to my desk feeling more accomplished, empowered and inspired by being in her presence. Making her acquaintance I felt like I had finally arrived and had become part of our business community. So it gives me great pleasure today to introduce [speaker and her bio … ].”

So how do I know I crushed it? Most importantly, I felt it.

Then: she opened her remarks by talking a bit about that interaction and the importance of strong business connections. She incorporated my introduction to her opening. Boom.

The evolution of it all

What was different?

Getting there wasn’t all about my stress, my insecurity or my clients: it was about connecting with the audience and what they needed at that moment.

I dropped the “I’m getting this opportunity because we paid” attitude and replaced it with “This is a moment to connect and share an experience with the most high-powered women in our city.”

While it wasn’t about me, I still shared something personal. There’s a big difference.

I let some feeling flow into the delivery: pride, humor, vulnerability.

I stood more erect and had better eye contact. I’m sure there was another crisis du jour happening but I didn’t let it affect me: I stayed in the moment.

It’s funny how delivering a few lines can be experienced so differently depending on where you are in your career and your life. The secret to success is to get outside of your own head, drop the fears, insecurity and noise and be in the moment with your audience.

Have you faced a similar situation? I’d love to hear!