Introducing ourselves is something that we all do almost every day. “I’m John, and I’m an electrical engineer.” We present ourselves on the telephone, on an airplane, in an elevator, in a meeting, when talking to a concierge, and in many other situations.
But when was the last time you stepped back and thought about how to introduce yourself? Is your presentation of yourself an effective one? Or is it what occurs to you at the moment? Does it get the job done?
Factors to Consider When Introducing Yourself
Introducing yourself, although a common task, requires you to develop a well thought through approach. To be fabulous at introducing yourself, you need to take several factors into account. What are your goals? What is the location? To whom are you introducing yourself? And finally, how much time will you have to present yourself? When you put these elements together, you can craft an effective introduction.
The place where you introduce yourself can make a huge difference in your effectiveness. The kind of introduction you would make in an elevator would be different from the one you would make at a cocktail party. The physical space affects the other person’s state of mind. The place can be a critical determiner of your style.
For example, when a speaker arrives at a podium for a talk, a third party often introduces him. It often involves summarizing the speaker’s background and accomplishments. You obviously cannot use the same kind of introduction when you meet someone in a conference room or at a business meeting. And if you introduced yourself on a podium the same way as you present yourself in an elevator, you would again be ineffective. The location makes an immense difference.
As you direct your introduction at someone, your audience is a critical factor. When you tailor your introduction to the audience, you make it more effective. Your audience’s role in a situation should determine your introduction. The role someone is playing defines their state of mind and expectations. And thus you need to keep the personality and the context of your audience in mind.
The role a person plays in a situation will set his expectations. For example, a CEO of a company will be different in her office and someone different in a neighborhood grocery store. She will have different expectations when meeting you at a grocery store versus meeting you as the CEO in her office. By recognizing this fact, you can become a more successful introducer.
Since effectiveness is defined by how well you achieve your goals, they should be primary in your mind when you choose your style. You may believe that every introduction does not have an objective, but that may not be accurate. Behind every interaction you have with another person, there is a goal. You may want to be memorable, or want to influence someone. Or, your goal may simply be to befriend someone. At other times, you may want to sell something or just have a casual conversation with them.
If your goal is to impress someone by making an impressive introduction, I suggest you think again. What do you really want to accomplish? Why do you want to impress someone? Is it because you want them to remember you? Or do you want them to like you so that you can become friends?
You may agree that if you act without a goal, your actions may not always be effective. The same is true about introducing yourself.
Some Examples of Introductions
Most introductions are boring and ineffective? By “ineffective,” I mean that the other person barely remembers what you said. That is because most of them focus on a name and a job. In fact, most introductions are as brief as “hello, I am Jim.” That’s it. Then the speaker expects to be asked questions. Most people expect to be asked, “What do you do?” How effective do you think such an introduction would be?
Let’s look at four different types of introductions:
1. The first one goes like “Hi, I’m Jim.” It focuses on the name of the speaker.
2. The second one goes a step further. “Hi, I’m Jim; I’m a professor of business and a consultant.” This is probably better; it tells more about Jim. As most people interact with others of similar backgrounds and social levels, this kind of introduction is usually weak. It can be an exciting, memorable and intriguing introduction if the work that you do is very different from the jobs that others are doing. So if Jim says, “hi, I’m Jim, and I am a crocodile hunter,” or “hello, I am Jim and I’m an astronaut,” you know where the conversation will be headed. That is how he should introduce himself if he wants to be the life of the cocktail party.
3. The third kind of introduction goes a step further by focusing on what you deliver. It would go something like this: “hello, I’m Jim. I help managers to become highly effective business leaders.”
Since this style tells a story, it communicates a lot more than the previous two. It also can be memorable, hard-hitting, and useful in some cases.
4. The fourth kind of introduction changes the focus from the person introducing himself or herself to the other person. For example: “hello, I’m Jim, and I’m going to help you become a more effective business leader.” This style can kick-start the discussion in a very different way than the first example above.
Four Elements of a Powerful Introduction
So what is the difference between the above four methods? Why are some more effective than others? It is because they use four elements of an introduction in different ways. If you remember these four elements, you can tailor your introduction too.
The Element of Surprise
The first element is the element of surprise. When you say something surprising, it can help you to draw attention to yourself. It can make an otherwise distracted counterparty suddenly focus on your words a lot more. It can also assist you to become memorable.
The second element is the story you tell. A story can make your introduction interesting, engaging, and memorable. You don’t have to tell a long story to use this element. A story has a beginning, middle, and an end. Every story starts with a context of the protagonist, followed by a major challenge and finally a resolution. But you do not have to tell the story in that logical manner. If you focus on the problem or the resolution, you may be able to communicate the entire plot.
When you are introducing yourself form a podium, you can tell longer stories, but for one on one introduction, you need one element of the story you want to communicate.
If you look at the third and the fourth examples of how Jim presented himself, you will notice he uses a story. He talked about the resolution of the story. By saying I transform managers into highly effective business leaders, he gives away a rich story in a single sentence.
Another practical opportunity to use a story as a part of your introduction, or an extended introduction, is during an interview, or a “get to know you” business meeting. A story can help you to convey a lot of information about you, your background, your goals and objectives, your aspirations, and your value to the other people present quickly. Stories help you to show rather than tell and can work wonders as a part of an introduction.
I suggest that you identify a few stories from your background that you could use to introduce yourself. In many group activities, interviews, “get to know you” meetings and other situations you may be asked to narrate one or more of your stories.
The connection is the third element of your introduction. This element helps you draw in the other person. One way of connecting with your audience is to share what you can do for them while the second way is to talk about something that may be common to both of you. If you have seen the series Mad Men, you may recall the first time when Don Draper meets Conrad Hilton. Don Draper briefly tells Hilton his background as a poor kid. Draper’s story of overcoming hurdles to achieve success touches Conrad who then becomes a big client for Draper.
The fourth element is that of time or temporal orientation. Your introduction can focus on the past, present or future depending on what your objective is. If Jim meets a lot of people at a party where he expects to bump into venture capitalists, his introduction is something like “hello, I’m Jim. I’m transforming management education in the Third World.” By using a temporal orientation to the future, this helps to focus the rest of the conversation on an objective that involves something in the future. On the other hand, if Jim is meeting a group of students and professors, he could say “hi, I’m Jim, a teacher of business and a retired colonel from the United States Army.”
Your introduction will usually focus on the present rather than the past or the future. But let that be a choice rather than a default.
Prepare Multiple Introductions
It would help you to have several openings developed in advance for different occasions. At the minimum, you should have three of them: A one-sentence introduction, another one of a couple of lines, and an opener with a slightly longer story.
You may want to test these ideas in different situations. By testing them, you will realize that some look good on paper but sound unnatural when spoken, and sometimes what works well when spoken may appear flawed on paper.
How to Introduce Yourself?
The way you introduce yourself can make a big difference to your career and your life. Introductions can determine how successfully you make friends, achieve your goals, and persuade others. Take some time to think about how you introduce yourself and create three different kinds of introductions. Try not to present yourself ad-lib, and instead use thoughtful, well-prepared openers.