Saturday, October 24, 2009
More Thoughts on Seminar Etiquette
A pet peeve of mine is speakers who stand up and hover while being introduced. While not a grievous transgression, hovering makes the speaker look either nervous or too eager to take the stage. Hovering also draws the attention of the audience, who stare at the speaker instead of listening to the host's introduction. I try to sit in the front row a few steps from the podium, so that I can quickly move into position when the introduction is finished. My first comments are to thank the host for the invitation and say something about the privilege of speaking to the audience.
Another peeve is when a host delivers an atrocious introduction, or worse, no introduction at all. In my experience, good introductions are rarer than bad ones. The rambling statements made by hosts are usually because they have neglected to prepare beforehand and are just winging it--probably thinking that it's not really important. However, introductions are very important, because they set the stage for the talk. If someone is introduced offhandedly, it sends the message to the audience that the speaker is not very important or that what they have to say is not of great import. Poor hosts usually fail in their introductions, not out of spite, but because they simply don't know any better.
I once was invited to give a seminar, and the person who invited me was not there. Someone else who was apparently in charge of the seminar series simply said, "Here is our seminar speaker for today" and nodded in my direction. I got up and introduced myself and gave a brief summary of my background. No one seemed to find anything amiss with this behavior.
On the other hand, I've experienced excellent introductions. It makes a huge difference in my attitude to have a host who clearly respects me and conveys this respect to the audience in their comments. A good introduction puts me at ease and boosts my confidence--both important when facing a crowd of strangers.
If you have to introduce someone, take the time to get some background on the speaker--either from the speaker prior to the seminar or from their website. A few words about their academic background and their current affiliation are a minimum. If you know them personally, you could say something about how long you've known them or worked with them. If they've published some important work, a few words about its significance might be stated. Mention of awards or honors that the speaker has received is also appropriate.