by Gary Genard
“Before we get started, let’s go around the table and have everyone introduce themselves.”
Can anything turn a poised professional into a quivering blob of jelly more quickly than a roundtable where that suggestion is made?
Perhaps not. After all, it’s the extreme example of the “Introductions make me awkward” experience. What could be worse for anyone self-conscious about introducing themselves than to have the moment draw visibly nearer, moment by excruciating moment?
Give me a round or two with a heavyweight contender any day.
Self-introductions needn’t spur nervousness and anxiety, however. For one thing, they’re opportunities to get started right away in reaching your goals for the meeting. So they require the same approach as all of your public speaking: a concern with meeting others’ needs rather than your own.
And they work in today’s video conferences as much as they do in in-person speaking.
Breathe to Calm and Focus Yourself
Whether it’s waiting to be put on the spot by talking about yourself, or any other circumstance that’s apt to test your mettle, breathing is your key to self-equilibrium. It’s part of knowing how to calm your nerves before speaking.
If you’re like many of my speech coaching clients, you may be thinking: “Should I breathe this way throughout my presentation?” Yes, you should. Breathing fully and consciously will certainly aid your vocal production and projection. But even more important, slower, effortless breathing makes you better prepared for whatever is coming your way. Like a roundtable introduction.
Listen to What the Others Are Saying
Tell the truth: When you’re waiting for the Dreaded Introduction to land in your lap, are you paying attention to what anyone else is saying? Of course not. You’re silently rehearsing what you’re going to say so you’ll sound good and impress everyone.
No wonder you’re stressed out! It’s the same mistake too many speakers make, of being more concerned with how they’re coming across than whether the audience is gaining anything. Actually listening to others’ introductions will help in two ways: 1) It will stop your self-consciousness concerning the doomsday clock you hear ticking; and 2) You will learn some things, including remarks you may be able to comment on.
Make Your Introduction Part of Your Performance
At a conference recently, I met a friend I hadn’t seen in a while who confessed that he was struggling with introductions. He was part of an upcoming panel at the same conference, in fact, so he urgently asked my advice.
I told him about the approach I’m discussing in this article, including this point: your speech or presentation begins when you introduce yourself. People will remember it later when you make your prepared remarks. So don’t think of it as an awkward exercise. It should be part of your game plan. What can you say at this moment that links into your important message?
Focus on What You Have to Contribute to Meetings
Finally, a reminder that you’re there to contribute, and nothing more. Your participation in this professional gathering was never about you. That may sound harsh, but is actually the kind of positive self-talk you should indulge in concerning all of your public speaking.
Without it, you run the risk of separating your introductory remarks from what you’ll be saying afterwards. No wonder you feel put on the spot and at a loss! If you’re worried about sounding boastful (as some people are), remember that everything you say should be relevant to the purpose of the meeting. That’s an easy-to-follow trail that leads to serving the group, not you.
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