When you introduce yourself, the most important audience is not the people you meet. The most important audience is actually you.
I have zero soccer ability but still played in a pretty competitive adult soccer league with my teenage stepson. (When three different ambulances show up during one game, you know it’s competitive.)
I was terrible but still played. Why? My stepson asked me to.
Note to parents: When your teenage kids ask you to do something with them, the first time you say no is also the last time you’ll be asked.
As we took the field before a game a guy on the opposing team strutted over. I think he picked me out since I was obviously the oldest player on the field. (Huh; there’s a delightful sentence to write.)
“Hello,” he said, “I’m Louis Winthorpe III*, CEO of NextBigThing Technologies.*”
“Jeff,” I said, shaking his hand.
“Didn’t think I’d make it on time,” he said. “Had to finalize a big contract, rattle a few chains at an overseas facility, and inspect a property we’re going to buy.”
What do you say to that? “Wow,” was my best effort.
“Ah, not really,” he said. “Same stuff, different day.”
I was trying to match the drollness of my “Wow” when my stepson stepped in, half-smile on his lips and full twinkle in his eyes, and rescued me by saying, “Come on, we need to get ready.”
Was my new friend cocky? Certainly, but only on the surface. His $400 cleats, carbon fiber shin guards, and “I’m the king of the business world” introduction was an unconscious effort to protect his ego. His introduction said, “Hey, I might not turn out to be good at soccer, but out in the real world I am The Man.”
While he introduced himself to me, he was his real audience.
That’s a shame. On that field, for that hour, he could have just been a soccer player. He could have sweated and struggled and possibly rekindled an ember of the youth in all of us that burns less brightly with each passing year.
How do you introduce yourself? When you feel particularly insecure do you prop up your courage with your introduction? Do you make sure to include titles or accomplishments or “facts,” even when you don’t need to?
If so, your introduction is all about you, not your audience.
Embrace less is more. Brief introductions are always best. Provide the bare minimum the other person needs to know, not in an attempt to maintain distance but because during the conversation more can be revealed in a natural, unforced, and therefore much more memorable way.
Be appropriate. If you meet another parent at a school meeting, for example, just say, “Hi, I’m Joe. My daughter is in third grade.” Keep your introduction in context with the setting. If there is no real context, like at a soccer game, just say, “Hi, I’m Joe. Hey, have fun.”
Under state. Unless you are in a business setting your job title is irrelevant. If you’re the CEO of NextBigThing Technologies, just say you work there. To err is human; to err humble is divine.
Focus on others. Your audience is the real audience. Ask questions. Listen. The best connections never come from speaking; they always come from listening.
After the game the kids on both teams were teasing me about one of my passes that would later win the informal “Worst Pass of the Season if Not Ever in the History of Soccer” award. Far from insulted, those are moments I live for because the banter signals a camaraderie and acceptance that is earned, not given.
I glanced over and saw him, alone as he packed up his gear, and felt a twinge of sadness. He never let himself just be a soccer player. He never gave himself a chance to be a teammate, to fit in and enjoy a shared purpose, however momentary or meaningless.
When you introduce yourself, just be who you are. Embrace the moment and the setting for what it says about you in that setting, not in comparison to other titles or accomplishments. Be yourself, skills and triumphs and struggles and failures and all.
You are your true audience, even when you introduce yourself.
Always be yourself… especially to yourself.
* Not really, but close.