My pleasure to present

“It is now my pleasure to present…,” said the man at the microphone. Hands throughout the auditorium were poised to applaud. The president of a nationwide network of motels was about to announce a program to build dinner theaters at the motels. For the thespians and performers including The Three D’s gathered in company headquarters in Memphis Tennessee, the circuit might be the greatest opportunity since Vaudeville.

The announcer uttered the president’s name. The welcoming applause was predictably thunderous from an audience with so much self interest at stake. The sound crescendoed to its peak, struggled then slipped as hands grew weary of clapping, whistling lips dried, and enthusiasm seeped away.

Meanwhile his Excellency the president ambled toward the microphone arriving several seconds after silence had replaced the jubilation. Sagged expressions replaced smiles on the faces of the audience members, all of whom considered themselves experts in stage technique. Across the table I heard one potential starlet of the circuit say to another, “He just doesn’t get it.” Her companion nodded.

What they accurately predicted was that any person who didn’t ride in on the applause of his or her introduction and use it as a launching pad didn’t know bean one about show business. Not a good omen for the proposed theater circuit. Not surprisingly the project never got off the ground. It was like asking a garden club president to race stock cars..

“You only get one chance to make a first impression,” as the saying goes. On stage, when the curtain opens, your chance to soar or face plant is multiplied by the number of people in the audience. Start off right and you are halfway to a standing ovation. Stumble, and immediately feel the flop sweat begin to seep into your shoes.

Sometimes the deck is so stacked against you it’s like having a hangman for master of ceremonies. I once performed for a national organization of university educators. Like many intellectuals, they considered the expanding world population a curse on the future of the earth.

The master of ceremonies meant well. He laid on the usual accolades, but finished with, “And he is the father of fifteen children.” I felt like a Christian being introduced in the coliseum by Nero. The silence was deafening. The stony faces and smattering of applause told me I was a ham sandwich in a synagogue. Introductions on stage are different only in degree from personal introductions. If we are introducing someone to another person or small group, consider beforehand the good things you know about that person, and particularly those things that might link him or her into the group. Introducing ourselves is a bit different. We obviously don’t want to open with a list of our accomplishments, but a word or two about who we are is certainly appropriate.

The next difference between public and private introductions is even more important in my opinion. On stage or at a podium or pulpit it is expected that we will deliver the presentation we have prepared. People would be confused if we immediately asked for questions from the audience or launched into a sing along.

But in private introductions I have found that after a brief statement of my identity, the best thing I can do is listen. If the other person doesn’t fill the silence with his own opinions or observations, a non threatening sincere question may break the ice.

The mechanics are also important, a firm handshake, eye contact, and a smile almost always open doors to communication. I have a pet peeve about people who want to dominate an introduction. A university president I met a few times was known for his hand shaking style. Particularly if you were taller than he which many people were, he would grab your hand and pull you off balance to let you know up front who was in charge of the conversation. I admired the man as a mover and a shaker. He didn’t need to try to intimidate me with hand shaking theatrics. I have a friend who instead of pressing palms grasps just the fingers of your hand and crushes them to one up you. An introduction should be an invitation to discourse, not a call to arms with verbal light sabers.

The Three D’s received many introductions over the years. Some were grandiose, some simple. My favorite intro of all time was from a scout leader introducing us at a Jamboree.

“Welcome The Three D’s.” He said, “Boys, we have a real treat for you tonight. The Three D’s will entertain us. And I want to tell you. I would sooner hear these guys sing than eat. (pause)

Because I have heard them eat.

“Welcome The Three D’s.”