Like it or not, first impressions count.
Regardless of whether you’re running a workshop, kicking off a class, or meeting a potential business partner for coffee, the way you introduce yourself can be an incredible lever to build trust, empathy, and engagement.
It sounds almost too simple to be worthy of discussion, but introductions can also put you on the back foot straight from the get-go. A confusing, nervous, or verbose introduction can ruin all the other hard work you’ve put into a project.
We don’t want that, so this post is all about how to nail a strong intro.
This post has been written with workshops and classes in mind, but the principles outlined here apply in many other areas too. Try ’em out for yourself.
Note: If you prefer moving pictures to text, here’s a video version I created, including two of my alter-egos:
The 2 elements of an introduction
At its essence your introduction should do two things: assert your credibility, and display your humanity.
Credibility is companies you’ve worked at, projects you’ve completed, notable people you’ve collaborated with, and events you’ve been invited to be a part of. It often boils down to names and accomplishments. You don’t want to be a name-dropper, but sprinkling in a couple of relevant names your attendees are familiar with is an easy and effective way to display credibility.
Credibility in your introduction indicates you are confident, professional, and possess gravitas.
Humanity is about you as a person. It’s your life experiences, your personality, the places you’ve been, the emotions you’ve felt.
Authentically displaying your humanity in your introduction can give the audience a sense you’re empathetic, approachable, charming, and charismatic.
It’s really as simple as that. Showing your humanity also often does wonders to reduce an audience’s nerves or concerns, which in turn will probably do the same for yours.
Good news for everyone involved.
Three principles for a great introduction
That’s right: just three principles are all you need to help make your introduction a secret weapon for success. Here they are:
- Credibility & Humanity
- Take one minute
- Tailor to the audience
We’ve already talked about Credibility and Humanity; let’s look at the others.
Just one minute
The second principle is even simpler than the first: keep your introduction to a maximum of 1 minute.
If you’re a great storyteller you can get away with longer, but as a rule of thumb keeping your introduction short and sharp is the best way to go. This is especially applicable when you’re starting out with a new workshop or audience and the nerves are jangling.
Tailor to the audience
The third principle requires a little more work – vary your introduction depending on the audience. This is important, as what’s credible for one audience may have next to no credibility with another.
To explore this principle a little further I often ask myself the following question ahead of my workshops:
“To DJ, or not to DJ?”
When I’m running sessions focused on tech, I obviously want my introduction to frame and underline my interest in technology. To do this, I have a story about my life as a DJ and talent agent and how I utilized the power of software to build my business.
This story can be very effective when talking to younger (i.e. under 35) audiences who are in more junior positions in a company, or work for themselves.
However, for a more senior corporate audience it’s unlikely to land so well, especially when the session is more specific, technical, or mission-critical. For better or worse, DJs have a bit of stigma attached and it can make me come off as a bit too casual.
On these occasions, I may instead mention my work coaching executives at multinational companies, or in technical product management roles where I saw certain thorny challenges appear.
Alternatively, I can tell the same DJ story but talk it about as building the systems to run an entertainment company.
Same story, same desired outcome, different context.
In both cases, my introduction aims to assert my credibility (through the brands and partners I’ve worked with over a period of time) and my humanity (through working in situations very similar to theirs).
Pro Tip: Overcoming Objections
Introductions are also a good way to cover off objections before they overtly come up. For example, using your intro to mention a common frustration people have with the topic can simultaneously build empathy and nix negativity.
Here’s a really simple example you could use:
“Like a lot of you shared in your registration forms for this session, my early time getting hands-on with [technology/product/skill] X felt really overwhelming.
After just a couple of hands-on sessions doing [Y] with my team I suddenly found myself feeling much more comfortable.
We’ll be aiming to do exactly that today.”
This may tip you over the 1 minute guideline, but for trickier crowds or sessions with more uncertainty, it’s well worth that extra 30 seconds.
All of this… for an intro?
Yup, this may seem like a lot of detail for what’s a very small part of what you’re doing, but a strong introduction can be one of your secret weapons.
Although it can feel weird, it’s definitely worth practicing your introduction so it feels solid but natural, and doesn’t overrun. Do it in the mirror, with a friend, on a walk with your dog – whenever, wherever and with whoever.
And as you start to stack different flavors of Credibility, Humanity, Audience, and Story, you’ll find yourself having a handful of clear, concise and relevant introductions ready to roll whenever you need them.