January 17, 2012

Surviving the mini-presentation: Your self-introduction

Last night, hubby and I attended a dinner hosted by one of the distributors he works with in his job at a specialty foods store. We've been at a trade show for the past few days, and this is a typical evening: cocktail party hosted by one vendor, dinner hosted by another. It's always fun to meet new people and have time for relaxing and socializing, as walking the show (more standing than walking) for seven hours each day is a lot of work and pretty exhausting.

At dinner, one of our hosts stood up and suggested that we all go around and introduce ourselves, including sharing something that no one at the table would know about us. Of course, I was thrilled! I love this stuff, right? But I imagine that at least half the people at the table went into an instant panic. Including my husband. He later described his reaction to me.

First, his stomach did a flip-flop. Then he started thinking about what he wanted to say. While thinking about his own introduction, he was trying to hear what others in the room were saying, but was distracted by his own thoughts. He tried to plan his intro only during the applause breaks, but he still missed some of the others' introductions. As it got closer and closer to his turn, he got more and more anxious. When it was time for him to introduce himself, he stood up, spoke (and gave a very funny intro, I might add), and didn't hear a word that came out of his mouth. He didn't start to comprehend what he had said until I started speaking next.

Does this sound familiar to any of you?

The self-introduction is the mini version of any other presentation you might give. If you plan it well, it can have an opening, a closing and a body, just like any other speech. It can have humor, it can be memorable, and it can influence your audience. It can also be poorly prepared, uninteresting, and forgettable. And it can make you really nervous, distracting you from listening to the other people in the room, which is the purpose of the intros in the first place.

I suggest always being prepared to give a basic self-introduction. When the time comes, even if someone tacks on an extra activity like stating something no one knows about you, you'll already have the basics in place. There are different situations where you might give a self-intro, but let's just talk about our typical business meeting or event. You know you're going to share your name and your occupation, but what else might people want to know and how can you make it interesting and relevant for them?

Say you've been at your company for ten years and you want to share that. But instead of saying, "I've been with ACME Magnets for ten years," you could say "I've been with ACME Magnets since 2002, the first year the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl." If you're not a football fan, maybe you'll say, "I started at ACME Magnets in 2002, the year Shrek won the first Best Animated Feature Award at the Oscars." How can you say the same old thing in a new way? How can you always be prepared with a snappy introduction that shows your personality and helps people get to know you a bit?

In addition to having your self-introduction mostly prepared, try to give yourself a moment to gather your thoughts when it's finally your turn. Don't start speaking until you're fully standing. Take a moment to look around the room and smile. Breathe. Feel your feet on the floor. Make eye contact with one or two people. Then start speaking. (Read my post on grounding for more on this.) Project your voice so everyone can hear you. Take your time. Enjoy your moment in the spotlight. Finish speaking before you sit down.

I'm not suggesting that your self-intro has to be the most fascinating speech ever. For most of us, it will be under 30 seconds and does not have to be elaborate. But having some basic ideas in place about what you want to say will reduce your nervousness when the time comes, and will also allow you to listen to what your colleagues are saying so you can learn something about them, just as you hope they'll learn something about you.

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