Introductions are hard. You’ve had very little time to read the room. You don’t know much about the person or people you’re meeting.
And you know first impressions count.
No matter how many times we’ve been asked to introduce ourselves, the moment when your turn comes around the circle or when someone in a group turns to you and says, “Tell me about yourself,” is a scary one.
The problem isn’t a lack of material. No, the problem is an overwhelming amount of material plus a lack of information about your audience.
All of our stories are, in their essence, the product of choices we make from all the material of our lives. These choices are easy to make in the comfortable company of friends and company because they have context, they know who we are, they will forgive us if a story lands flat. So, we make a choice and take a chance. It isn’t so easy with strangers or in a professional setting.
Similarly, with friends and family, we know our audience. We know their interests and beliefs and strengths and weaknesses. We can tell a story that will play off of one friend’s love for travel or another friend’s recent health challenges.
When you’re introducing yourself to a stranger (or group of strangers), you have to make the same choice without limited information about who you’re talking to.
So what can you do?
Well, there are a few questions you can ask yourself to assess the situation and ultimately help yourself in the direction of a good response.
The questions to ask are all about what you want as a result of your story. In other words, what effect do you want from your story. The effect you’re looking for can be anything from the conversation moving on to the next person to someone asking for your contact information.
As for which story to tell, you have to have some faith in yourself. You’ve lived an interesting life and certainly have interesting stories to tell. Finding the one that will grab your audience’s attention, or let it pass over won’t be hard as long as you know what you want to accomplish.
So what are the questions you want to ask?
First of all, check your setting, is it social or professional? This is usually pretty clear. There will be instances, though, where you’re in a social situation with professional potential. If that’s the case, think of it as a professional situation with an extra audience.
Then ask yourself what kind of relationship do you think you want to build with this person. If it’s social, this is whether you want to get to know someone or the group better or not. If it’s professional, you’ll be asking yourself what your goal would be in developing this relationship. Is it a potential path towards employment? Could they become a client? Are you not sure about what potential is there?
If you aren’t sure, you can always consider flipping the question back, telling someone that you’d love to hear more about them so you can choose the right story for them. It might sound strange, but imagine going to a restaurant where the chef comes out and asks how you’re feeling and what you like to eat and what part of the world you like to eat in. Then they go and make a meal for you. It would be the best!
Asking for information from someone so you can tailor your response to their needs or interests is a way to honor your audience. They’re going to give you their attention and you want to make it worth their while.
Now you have an idea of where you are and what kind of relationship you want to pursue. Now it’s time to take the stage.
Because that’s the thing, the invitation to “tell me about yourself” is a huge opportunity to be in the spotlight. You’ve got no rules, nothing is off-limits, and you have your audience’s full attention. Now you tell your story.