It is often a challenge on how to introduce yourself to a stranger. When someone asks, “what do you do?”, then its sometimes tough to answer in one or two sentences. Saying too much about yourself on the other hand can be quite impolite and boring. You are therefore in a fix on how to introduce yourself in brief and be just to the point.
For people like me, who have forty years of work experience wearing different hats, answering the question “what do you do?” is very difficult. When I say that currently I am a consultant then people just say “Oh!”. But when I say that I used to be a Professor at IIT Bombay, then they say “Great Professor, when were you at IIT? And are you still in touch Sir?” So, a lot depends on what you want to project in your introduction as your “identity”.
When you attend a meeting of a committee, the chairman often asks for a round of introductions. You generally see so much of a variation when the members introduce themselves. Some stay very brief and say their name, position and the organization. However, some members speak a lot about themselves and try to impress everybody or draw attention. Such kind of introductions tell you more about their personalities.
When you chair a session in a conference, you are often asked to introduce the speakers. I find the task difficult when some speakers give a 3-page version of their “brief” introduction instead of a standard half page.
Once I tried to summarize and highlight the key achievements of the speaker to save on time. Later, the organizers gave me a feedback that the speaker wasn’t happy with my summarization and was expecting me to read out all the 3 pages. In another case, when I read out the two-page introduction, the speaker said, “Thank you for your kind words Dr Modak, but such an elaborate introduction wasn’t really necessary!”. I wondered why he gave a 2-page version of his introduction in the first place. It’s hard to understand what is expected in such introductions.
A friend of mine told me about an event organized by alumni to celebrate 25 years. Each alumnus was introducing saying titles such as “Vice President, Marketing”, “Chief Executive Officer”, “Head, R&D” etc. All these introductions sounded very impressive. But when it came to an alumnus who was a well-known and successful industrialist, he introduced himself as “Unemployed”. He said this “brief” introduction in a calm tone. Many did not like his style of introduction as they thought it was rather rude. But perhaps this was the way he thought of distinguishing himself from others who were successful but “employed”.
Unfortunately, now a days, much of the information about a person is available on Google. Many professionals have LinkedIn pages that provide the “history” and “achievements”. I find that people view the LinkedIn profiles prior to the meeting and thus get e-introduced. I remember when I introduced myself as Executive President of Environmental Management Centre LLP”, my host said “Oh Dr Modak, that we already know. But tell us more about recent assignment with the World Bank? We will be very interested to collaborate with you”. Within minutes, I realized he and his team already knew everything about what we do!
I remember I was on a mission with six participants to Japan. One of our mission members was a lady who had a very successful career. Every day our Japanese counterpart was taking us to different institutions, and we had to introduce ourselves before starting the discussions. After the first two days of mission, I thought I could easily introduce any of my colleagues as these introductions became “standard” somewhat. But this lady was an exception. She introduced herself differently each time picking up relevant portions of her experience and expertise that made a sense to the organization. For example, she talked about her experience of being on the Task Force of Ministry of Finance to Japanese government officials. When with bankers, she introduced herself as an expert working with the World Bank on credit appraisals and with University professors, she told about her work on innovation and entrepreneurship. So, her introductions were “customized”. Only at the end of our mission, I could understand her rounded personality and rich and varied experience.
I happened to attend an international event in Barcelona. The organizers hosted a wine and cheese party one night before the formal program. The girl organizing the event was very friendly and talkative. She mingled with all of us. “Hi Dr Modak, I know you work in circular economy. But what else do you do?” She asked in all curiosity handing over a glass of wine. “Well Sheena (her name), I play keyboards and I love jazz” I said. “Oh, lovely to know; tell me more about your interest in music Dr Modak” Sheena wouldn’t let me go. So, we chatted a bit.
The next day, when meeting started, Sheena had the job of introductions. I was the first one to be introduced. Instead of reading out the half page profile that I had sent, Sheena spoke extempore. “Well” she said “Dr Modak’s profile is already printed in the dossier, and you can read that later, but I must tell you that he is a fan of Jazz music and a soul happy when on the keyboards”. And she spoke few more words about the stories I shared with her on my love towards music. Sheena introduced all the speakers “differently” and we learnt something new about each other and so the audience. The atmosphere became warm and personal due to such “clever” introductions.
Two weeks ago, I was in Berlin for a summer school on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). We had around 30 students. A welcome dinner was organized at a lovely restaurant near the venue of the school. Dr Jim Fava joined us with his wife for the dinner. Dr Fava has been called the ‘father of modern-day life cycle assessment’. Jim has spent over 25 years promoting and developing the practice and application of life cycle information to support decision making globally. We were on the same dining table that was shared by some of the summer school students. One of the girls introduced herself and so did others and when the turn came to Dr Fava, I realized that he was finding difficult to introduce himself “briefly” to this young crowd. I was very curious to listen to his introduction. Dr Fava said and very casually so, “Well nothing much. I live in Costa Rica and on my way back I will stop in the United States to receive Lifetime Achievement Award for my contributions to LCA”. I thought that it was a great “brief” introduction, and so well said to the young LCA professionals sitting on the dining table.
But friends, not all receive such awards to make the introductions easier!
Cover image sourced from https://www.edx.org/course/introduction-to-psychology
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