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Public Speaking
Acting as a Chairperson
This Paper’s Contents:

PAPER THREE : Acting as a Chairperson

1. Introduction
Remember, these pages are all about public speaking and so on this page we will not be covering the variety of things that are required of a Chairman, merely the speaking aspects of this role. This page is for anyone who suddenly finds themselves in the position where they are required to act in this capacity. Here we are using the idea of a chairman as the person who introduces other speakers, brings a unity to the proceedings and finally closes the gathering. These may all be simple things, but they are things worth thinking about and working on.

In paper No.2, about giving a simple talk, as we started to consider the responses of the audience if you are a general speaker, we stated the following:

     At the very least, I would suggest that you hope that:
- They will accept (like) you – because if they do, it will help them more readily receive what you are saying, and
- They will buy into all you say, so much so that they will DO something in response to what they have heard from you.

Those things apply equally here.

Now we move on to your role as the person who introduces others and pulls the threads of the meeting (conference) together.

In the page that follows we will cover:
-  Introducing Others
-  Laying a Framework
-  Bringing to a Close
2. Introducing Others

Even if you are simply introducing someone else, if your audience respond to what you say in those two ways above, then they will be all the more open to the ‘main speaker’ who follows you.

If you do a boring, tedious, rambling introduction, you have done a disservice to your ‘main speaker’ because they are going to have to climb over that introduction and lift the audience out of the sense of doom that has, in all probability, started to settle on them. If you do a bad start, it conveys to the audience (possibly wrongly) that the rest of the time is going to be equally deadly.

If you communicate that this speaker, who is going to follow you, is the best thing since sliced bread (sorry awful phrase), it raises the bar in the mind of the listeners – and maybe the speaker too!

A good introduction shares:
-  The name of the person and their title, role etc. If they have a string of letters after their name it is only polite to refer to them. They’ve earned them!
-  The audience also needs to know what this person is going to talk about and how they are qualified to speak on this subject. Stating that they work for some Agency, say, is inadequate – that may be their first job and they’ve only been there two weeks!
-  Build some confidence into the audience by telling how long this person has been doing what they do and what they have achieved. This will obviously require some research homework.
-  It may be risky, but is nevertheless good housekeeping, to say how long they are likely to be speaking for – you need to discuss that beforehand. The audience has a right to know how long you are intending to keep them there, and if this speaker is just one among a number, they need reminding there is a schedule to keep to.  

If it is at all possible, DON’T read the introduction of this person verbatim from notes. Make sure you have names, qualifications, job titles and experience noted (and get them right by checking with the speaker beforehand) but if possible keep it light and as near to “prompted impromptu” as you can. You can read off a list of qualifications and experiences (and you probably won’t remember them all without a prompt anyway) to make a specific point of how well qualified your speaker is and how fortunate you are to have him or her with you.

Address your speaker with thanks for them being there, and address the audience with the confident hope that they are going to get much from what is to follow.

3. Laying a Framework

It may well be that, not only do you need to introduce a key speaker, but it has been agreed that you will lay a foundation for what follows. This tends to be more when it is a conference or mini-conference. In such circumstances you may be laying a framework before the main speaker comes on, or in preparation for breaking up into seminar groups, or something similar. This brings with it a much heavier load of responsibility.

Your objective now is to put into context all that follows. What follows is following something.

It may be that the Law has just changed requiring fresh knowledge, understanding and application, and this is what the following talk(s) will all be about. The danger here might be that you cover what has happened over recent years, only to find that the main speaker was going to do that as the first part of his or her talk. This needs careful liaison with the speaker(s) to agree boundaries in order to avoid that possible awkwardness.

You may belong to a company or organisation that is associated with the subject matter of the talk/conference. It is legitimate to make brief comment on your own company / organisation’s involvement or activity, as long as it does not draw away from the subject and the speaker who is about to follow.

If you do plug your organisation, you do need to make obvious the link to the subject matter that is about to come. For example, “We at XY & Z have been grappling with the development of the services before us today, and for the last two years have been working into the areas of P & Q, and so I am greatly looking forward to hearing what our speaker today has to share and the insights I am sure he will bring to the subject. May I therefore introduce to you, Professor B who has.....”

If there are going to be more than one speaker following you, you need to agree with them, either that you will introduce each of them individually when it is their turn to speak, or you will introduce them all at the beginning and let them follow on one by one.

Likewise, if there is more than one speaker, it is helpful to explain the organisers’ thinking in bringing these people together, and the flow or link between them. A good explanation of how things follow on can be invaluable in helping people grasp the overall picture and see how particular elements fit together.

4. Bringing to a Close

Your role may also include bringing the proceedings to a close. There are two ways of doing this:

1. Badly (over briefly) with simple thanks to the speaker, and an abrupt end.

2. Comprehensively drawing together the key points that have been made by the speaker(s) and then
-  possibly (if it is appropriate, if you have that sort of stature) making some appropriate additional ‘outworking’ points to think about,
-  followed by sincere thanks to the speaker(s),
-  followed by thanks to the audience for coming,
-  notices of any future similar meetings and,
-  if it is available, directions to tea of coffee following.

5. Recap & Conclusion

You may think that the content of this section is superfluous and that your brief introductions are fine. OK, but how much better could you be in this activity?

Whether it is introducing someone, laying a framework, or drawing together threads at the end, you have the possibility of ‘painting the big’ picture that helps people grasp and understand the material being considered in a much greater way than ‘the minimalistic chair’.   

Before others speak you pave the way for them and set them in a context that your audience understands, and when they have finished you simply underscore what has been said to make it even more memorable, and maybe even challenge about where we go with that new knowledge and understanding. It is not arrogant to do this; you are actually providing a service for your audience, who just possibly may have the grace to thank you afterwards!