I recently attended a beer tasting — hard to screw up, right? But the host mysteriously chose not to begin by handing us a tasty beer. Instead, she fell into the common trap of trying too hard to justify her reason for being there by using a long, overwrought intro. She talked about passion for beer and her trips through the hops fields and her childhood experience of tasting the foam from her father’s brew... She’d clearly been watching too many TED talks and had lost sight of what her event was really about: attendees tasting beers.
Even experienced facilitators can fall into this trap and ruin their first impression. The truth is that nobody in attendance cares in the slightest about your life story or work history, and sharing it serves no purpose except to bore them, hurt the energy levels, and lower goodwill. (This also happens rather frequently in “getting to know you” meetings.)
The purpose of your intro is to offer just enough for the audience to give you the benefit of the doubt so that you can get started delivering the value they showed up for. In the case of a workshop, the “value” is in delivering your first high-impact Learning Outcome. In the case of a beer tasting, the “value” would have been in the first sip of a surprising and delicious beer.
Intros are easier than you think, thanks to the fact that the audience shows up already believing that you’re credible. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be there. As such, you don’t need to beat them over the head with your CV. All you need to do is to skip through the boring stuff as quickly as humanly possible and start proving them right by delivering value.
Of course, you do still need to tell them who you are. But it can be quite short, including only a) your name and b) exactly one relevant detail. Here are a few examples of great personal intros:
“Hey, I’m Katie. A few years back I quit my job and spent the next two years as an apprentice, learning traditional woodworking and furniture making, and now most of my home is filled with stuff I’ve made myself.”
“Hey, I’m Sophie. I’ve trained and managed high-value sales teams in a number of Fortune 500s, and at the peak was responsible for delivering $400 million per year in partnership-driven sales.”
“Hey, I’m Jacob. I’ve never done this stuff professionally, but I’ve worked on a bunch of hobby projects over the years, and I just wanted to share some of my lessons-learned from trying to apply all the advice and best practices from the ‘experts’.”
“Hey, I’m Ian. I’ve spent a couple decades freelancing, although now I’m primarily a full-time dad for my two boys. I’m going to talk about how to fit freelancing into your family life without sacrificing on either side.”
“Hey, I’m Imran. I’m mainly a programmer, but I’ve also been helping some of my friends optimise their Facebook ad campaigns, and I’ve seen that with a bit of patience and the right approach, you can usually increase performance by 10-20x.”
All of these are great: one key piece of relevant information, chosen and presented in a way suggests you have something to say which is worth listening to. If you have a brilliant stamp of credibility (like Sophie’s huge sales number or a Nobel Prize), then by all means, mention it. But the other examples above work just fine without anything like that, because they’ve packaged up whatever experience they do have into a sharp, clear, focused explanation of why they’re worth listening to.
So what about our misguided beer host? If I was in her shoes, I try something like this for the next event:
“Hey, I’m Jackie. I used to be a wine sommelier, but I’ve always loved—and have recently been obsessing over—beer. Today I’m excited to share a few of the most interesting ones I’ve found, all produced locally in Catalunia.”
Next time you’re getting ready to introduce yourself, spend a bit of time digging through your history for the single key piece of information which makes you seem most credible, and then use it as the foundation of the world’s shortest introduction. Your audience will appreciate it, and you can then jump forward to giving them what they actually showed up for: the value you promised to share.