Tuesday, April 04, 2006

On Making Introductions

I was thinking about introductions recently. Over the years, I have introduced a good number of speakers. Many were at Rotary Club meetings. Some were authors either at library events or at library association conferences. The one which stressed me the most (until very recently) was when I was President of the Connecticut Library Association (1999-2000).

At the CLA Conference 2000, there were two keynote speakers. The first was Jeffrey Steingarten, author of The Man Who Ate Everything. The other was John Updike. Imagine having to write and give an introduction to an author as prominent and famous as John Updike, and to know that the probable room-capacity crowd (about 400 of your nearest and dearest professional colleagues in the state) were waiting for him. I sweated over that introduction. I think I still have it on a disk somewhere. It was short and pithy. I did not learn of my reward until much later. After Updike spoke, he signed copies of his books. I purchased a copy of his then new novel, Gertrude and Claudius, the story of the action before the opening of the play Hamlet and a copy of the older Bech at Bay. I was the last in line, and he very graciously inscribed them for me. [He is a very quiet, unassuming man in person. Very easy to work with, and a true gentle man. I really enjoyed meeting him.]

The books came home with me, and lived for a while on my bedside table. I read Gertrude and Claudius first. It was new, it was in the news. After several months, I opened Bech at Bay. There inscribed was my pay day. Mr. Updike had written: "For Michael, my noble and eloquent introducer, John Updike." I will cherish it always!

Now to the current angst. Monday (past) was the launch of the "Week of the Young Child" in Bridgeport and the release of the draft of Bridgeport's Blueprint for Early Childhood. I have been working on this project including service on the editorial team. I was tapped to be the Master of Ceremonies for this event. That meant in the same event, I was to introduce the Mayor, the Congressman, the Superintendent of Schools, and the CEO of the local United Way, and the pre-school children of the local community college's lab school. In addition, I needed to ride herd on them (and the Governor's Special Assistant for Early Childhood) to keep the program on time, and not forget to introduce any of the City Council members, State Representatives, or State Senators. I am thankful that I took the time on Sunday night to sit down and write out an introduction for each of the speakers.

It went well, I guess. That's what folks have told me. We did not miss any of the politicians, the speakers all pretty much stuck to schedule, and we ended on time. [My trick, by the way, was to print out a skeleton schedule with times in 28 point type and leave it (in a page protector) on the podium with a clock which has one inch numbers. It seems that this subtle hint, plus the pre-work done by someone else, worked like a charm.]

Introductions. Does anybody really remember them? Yet at the same time, done badly, they will be talked about. Mine haven't been talked about, so that must mean something.


  1. What a wonderful John Updike story! I've always loved giving introductions--it's kind of like getting to be a speaker without actually having to give the speech--but I'm sure introducing Updike would have floored me.

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