After we all sat down, the organizer said, “Let’s take a moment and go around the room and have everyone introduce themselves.”
Then came the kicker. “And while you’re at it,” he said, “take a few moments to tell us a little about yourself.”
I always struggle with the “tell us a little about yourself” portion of a self-introduction. I can go with bland and boring (I have plenty of material to mine) but that is, well, bland and boring. Or I can try to be clever, but my attempts at humor usually leave people laughing at–instead of with–me.
Then there’s length. Be too brief and people think you’re disinterested and disengaged. Go too long and you come across like you’re full of yourself.
Introducing myself isn’t a big deal. But somehow it feels like a big deal.
The premise is simple: Just break your introduction down into present, past, and future.
The present is easy. If you’re in a professional setting, start with your job title and the company you work for. If not immediately clear, add a few details about what you do. For example, you might say, “I’m Duke Ellington. I’m the owner of Ellington Music. We sell brass instruments.”
In my case, the company name is irrelevant. So I can say, “My name is Jeff Haden. I’m a speaker, author, ghostwriter, and a contributing editor for Inc. Magazine.”
But keep in mind that if you’re a multi-hyphenate you should stick to the parts that matter to the audience. Say I’m touring a factory that I might write about for Inc. In that case, “I’m Jeff Haden, contributing editor for Inc. Magazine” is plenty.
The key is to focus not on what you want to say about yourself, but on what other people need to know about you.
Do that, and describing your present is easy.
Describing the present may be sufficient. But maybe not.
Take the case of me touring a factory. In that case, it’s helpful for me to add, “Before this, I worked in manufacturing for twenty years.”
While it’s only one sentence, it does establish credibility and helps build rapport. Plus, the people leading the tour know we speak a similar language. If they want to know more about my background, they’ll ask, and be much more willing to hear me describe it.
Just like with the present, focus on what the audience needs to know about you.
The shorter, the better.
Here’s where the “tell us a little about yourself” part comes in.
Or not. One way to avoid “What the heck can I say about myself that is remotely interesting?” is to whip out a little Social Jiu-Jitsu, the ancient art of shifting the focus back onto other people.
Pretend I’m at a seminar on being a better podcast guest. (While I’ve never attended one, if you’ve heard me on a podcast you might think that’s a good idea.) Instead of sharing something personal, I could say, “And I’m really interested in learning how to answer questions with sentences rather than paragraphs.”
That shows I’m interested and engaged. It’s a little revealing; I’m clearly aware I can be longwinded. And it’s self-deprecating, a position I greatly prefer to anything that remotely sounds like bragging.
The other approach is to share something you hope to achieve. Maybe you’ve gone back to school. Maybe you’ve just moved to the area and are enjoying putting down roots in such a cool place.
Maybe you want to run a marathon. You could say, “And I’m training to run a marathon, even though that runs counter to my genetic predisposition towards couches.” (Told you I’m not clever.)
We all have things we want to do. Just share one of yours that you feel will resonate with the audience. Or pick one that won’t; the fact your “personal detail” isn’t relevant only makes it more personal.
Regardless, try to keep it to one or two sentences. Think of your introduction as a version of an elevator pitch. Short, sweet, to the point, and hopefully memorable.
For example, “I’m Jeff Haden. I’m a contributing editor for Inc. Magazine. Before that I worked in manufacturing for twenty years. I’m excited to see how you’ve managed to increase throughput, yet somehow also reduce waste.” Now the audience knows who I am, why I’m there, and are implicitly flattered by the fact I clearly want to learn from them.
That’s a self-introduction I can pull off with without nervousness or hesitation, because it’s not about me.
Sure, your introduction is about you… but it’s not really about you.
It’s about other people.
Which is what everything worthwhile tends to be.