Those little self-introductions at the start of meetings and Zoom calls can feel tedious. But maybe having to introduce yourself can also be useful and liberating.
We all know the awkward moment, at the start of a class, meeting, workshop, or some other kind of group event, when we’re asked to go around the room, or along a row of boxes on a screen, and introduce ourselves.
It feels forced, uncomfortable, and odd. We grit our teeth, accept our fate, and muscle through, improvising just enough words to sound like we’ve treated the exercise with respect, but not so much as to seem like we’re enjoying the limelight.
But what if this embarrassing and fraught experience was actually something useful? What if it was a gift that could advance your creative career and help you be more interesting?
Introducing Yourself And Your Story
In his masterclass on writing, David Sedaris talks about the importance of reading your work aloud. Sedaris is a hugely popular author. He’s also a much loved speaker who sells out concert halls around the world. People come to see Sedaris stand at a lectern and read his frequently amusing and often poignant short stories.
Some of these stories are published works from his books or essays he’s had published in journals like the New Yorker. Others are works in progress, things he’s still writing, that aren’t ready for publication.
For Sedaris, reading these works in public is part of the writing process. As he reads he makes notes – of where audiences laugh, where they seem to lose interest – and he uses these observations as prompts when he rewrites his pieces.
This is what comedians do when they test out jokes and new material in front of small club audiences before going on tour, recording a comedy special, or hosting a big event.
In Writer’s Digest, Jess Safaris describes going to New York’s Gotham Comedy Club one night when Jerry Seinfeld took the stage. After a blisteringly funny set, Seinfeld hung around and gave a Q&A where he even offered insight into how he comes up with new material.
Obviously, you have to come up with ideas and jokes and figure out how to tell them. But the crucial final step is to test the material, typically in small club settings, or as Safaris puts it, “try out jokes among a low-stakes crowd to see how they do before trying them at a larger venue”.
And is there any lower-stakes venue than the round of introductions before a meeting?
Why Good Introductions Help
Here’s an uncomfortable fact: You will have to introduce yourself thousands of times over the course of your life.
Some of these introductions will be instantly forgettable. Others could change your life. In some relationships, like when you’re a parent or a child, you’ll have to reintroduce yourself over and over. In others, like romantic connections or job interviews, the quality of your introduction could determine whether there is any relationship at all.
Then there’s all the other kinds of introductions, like the “About” section on your LinkedIn profile, or any of the social media platforms you use. If you write a book, or release some music or art, you’ll need to come up with other kinds of introduction.
And if you are ever interviewed, be it for a podcast or a TV show, then how you introduce yourself takes on an even deeper existential quality.
So, given the number of introductions you will need to make in your life and how important they could be, wouldn’t you want to practise doing them, in some kind of “low-stakes” environment, whenever the chance presented itself?
5 steps to improving your introductions
I used to find introducing myself anxiety inducing. Back in 2015, when I had my panic attacks, one of the things I talked to my therapist about was how difficult I found introducing myself.
Slowly, I was able to regain my confidence. Along the way, I learnt to break down the process of getting better at introductions into 5 steps.
1. Get Comfortable Introducing Your Name
Does the pronunciation of your name matter to you? Do you prefer certain pronouns? Or do you like people to use a nickname when addressing you?
Help people get these things right. Also, notice the questions they ask, like where your nickname came from, what the origin is of your family name, or any special meaning your name has. These questions don’t always come up, but when they do, it can be an insight into obvious things that make you special.
2. Choose Your Box
People inevitably want to label and categorise us. If you’re going to be put in a box, then why not make it a box of your own choosing?
Does your job title matter, or would you rather be known for what you create? Are you more concerned for people to know your track record and where you come from, or the impact you have now and where you’re going?
The best opportunities open up when you help people see you clearly. You attract like-minded individuals – especially people working towards the same kind of change or results you’re committed to.
3. Introduce Your Intention And Vibe
What are you hoping to get from the situation you’re in? Are you here to learn, to have fun, to be better informed?
Being clear about your intentions makes it easier for people to open up and connect with you. Your vibe also helps people see what your boundaries are, what’s acceptable to you, and the positive contribution you can make.
4. Practice The Pace Of Your Introduction
Great speakers often have an innate sense of time. They can “speak to the clock”. Give them 3 minutes, and they know how many words to speak and how to use pauses to make them fit.
This matters when writing introductions for yourself as well. Often you’ll be asked to fit your bio to a word count. Having a sense for what to include – whether you’re given 25, 75, 100, or 250 words – can be the difference between giving a clear impression and simply spraying vague words on a page.
When we struggle with the pace (or spacing) of an introduction, often it’s because we’re fighting our own feelings. Speakers who are good with time are managing their emotions so they don’t rush and start talking faster.
Introducing yourself on your next Zoom call might take only 20 seconds. But learning to fill that space well could teach you how to hold space for your story.
5. Mix Up Your Introductions
It might be tempting to find one introduction that works and stick to it. But remember, this is your chance to try out different ways of talking about who you are and what you do.
Plus, if your introduction becomes a script, then it will be hard to sound authentic.
Much like a comedian trying out jokes, or David Sedaris looking for the moments when an audience reacts to his stories, use the way people respond to your introduction to note which bits of your biography and identity resonate with people.
This adaptability also makes it easier for you to fine tune your interactions and self-descriptions to suit each audience while also being true to yourself and consistent with the image you present in other situations.
Being good at introducing yourself isn’t some gift the muses impart on a select few people. It’s a skill. You can become better at introductions. You can practise them. And what you learn in a low-stakes setting like your next meeting can help you become better at the more important introductions you will have to make eventually.