Reflecting on introductions

SCHEDULED: 2010-07-31 Sat 08:00

Introductions. I’m thinking about this because I feel odd when Judy Gombita (@jgombita) enthusiastically introduces me as a tech evangelist rock star, and I need to tease out where that comes from.

I recognize her introduction as a gift, and I appreciate it. Where does this reticence come from?

One-up

Part of it, I think, is not wanting to be lumped in with self-proclaimed experts. It seems you can’t throw a link without hitting a social media guru these days. While it’s great that people are excited about this and are working on helping businesses and people learn, I don’t know if we know enough about social media to be experts in it yet.

Relatively, maybe. There are people whom you can help, even if you’re just starting out. You don’t have to be an expert to help. You don’t even need to be an expert for people to find you. (It’s like fame. If you have to say you’re famous, you aren’t. If you’re famous, you don’t have to say it.)

There’s so much mystique about “expertise”–or “eminence”, another term that comes up at IBM often these days. I feel a little weird about it, even though I’m currently working on an expertise location initiative. (I think of it as about finding people. That helps.)

Expert, rockstar, guru, maven, and all of these other “one-up” nouns make me feel odd. I’ve always had a problem with articles listing me as “self-proclaimed geek”, despite the fact that I’ve got “geek” on my card, website, and e-mail signature. If we have to qualify the word “geek”, I’d rather use “self-confessed.” A minor tweak.

In the past, I’ve kidded about “domestic goddesshood” and being a “geek goddess”, but always as a joke.

I like being on the same level as people. It’s hard enough helping people believe that they could write/blog/bookmark/participate in communities/program/draw/follow their passions. It’s almost impossible if they think, “Oh, that’s very well and good for you because you’re you, but I could never do it.”

I remember when I was teaching university freshmen the joy of programming. Some were intimidated by the way I could read a program upside down and ask questions to help them debug it. I told them that was because I had spent a lot of time struggling with my own bugs and reading textbooks I didn’t quite understand. (I didn’t tell them that I started reading those textbooks in grade school, borrowing them off my sister’s shelves.)

Is this a gendered thing, the way women are taught to fold their hands and shrink into themselves while men are encouraged to boast of their achievements? But I wasn’t brought up that way, and I know many male role models who are competent and humble.

Nouns and verbs

Another thought that came up in the conversation with Judy: nouns versus verbs.

I don’t want to be known as a tech evangelist, rock star, or a social media guru. Nouns. Hype. (Where does the conversation go from there?)

I’d rather people focused on how I can help others. “Oh, you want to get started in blogging? Talk to Sacha, she might have tips.”

Not an expert. A co-learner. A co-adventurer.

Which makes me think that it might be good to experiment with my cards, because most of the time, “Evangelist” grabs people’s attention and then they focus on that, and there’s something missing. I like my e-mail signature better. The last line is: “My passion is helping people connect and collaborate. How can I help you make things happen?”

It also reminds me of why I like blogging and presenting. There are no introductions – or if there’s a bio, it’s brief. It’s having all these half-conversations open, inviting you to jump in without the awkwardness of the start.

Introductions

I think of how people come together in my tea parties. A small group, manageable. One or two conversations going on at a time. There are brief introductions: names, sometimes stories. But I don’t really introduce people. Instead, we jump into the middle of conversations.

My favourite connecting tool is the question. The more I know about people’s interests, the more I can ask questions that draw out those connections in larger conversation. I like listening to what people are talking about and connecting that to what other people can share. It’s okay to be quiet, too.

I do introduce people, from time to time. When we’re standing around at a crowded event and someone clearly wants to join the circle. When we’re having a conversation and something comes up that’s relevant to someone across the room whom my conversation partner hasn’t met.

Most of the time, I whiz past the introduction and head straight into common interests, shared issues, or some kind of understanding that we can build through conversation. Details and competencies and networking needs can emerge through the conversation. When I remember, I use people’s names often so that other people can remember their names.

One approach among many. I like it, though. It would be interesting to experiment with other ways to help people connect: let people do the normal introduction and small talk routine? elevator pitches?

But it’s fun skipping the titles and focusing on what people want to talk about. =)

Haven’t figured this out yet. There’s more to understand in here, somewhere. Here’s what I understand a little more clearly now:

  • I don’t like one-up nouns or titles because they create distance and risk backlash.
  • I like skipping introductions and jumping into the middle of a conversation. My preferences influence the ways I help people connect.
  • Might be fun to experiment: change my card, tinker with introductions…

    2010-07-29 Thu 09:05

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  • http://sirmon.wordpress.com Ramon

    Wow cool. At first I thought this was gonna be a re-hash of the introvert/shy sacha-meme. But ’twasn’t. so. I agree about the skipping intros. I agree about “one-ups” though that’s such a strange name for it. However… it could also mean more challenging questions from an audience who’ll no longer be wearing kids gloves. It could mean getting to their problem quicker. That means it’s not a “one-up” meant to put people in their respective caste – but rather a “rank” – bleah – I can’t find the word. the point is it facilitates conversation by communication a “level” at which you and your audience and meet.

    Can you put up a list of books you’re reading / have read? Thanks

  • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

    For presentations, I often let the organizer use a very brief introduction (sometimes even just title and name if I can get away with it, or brief objectives as well), and then I use stories to build credibility in the presentation itself. I don’t like those one- or two-slide, several-minute introductions that focus on the presenter, because they waste precious presentation-starting time focused on the presenter instead of on audience/participants. Stories do just as good a job of demonstrating character and competence, and you can work that into the regular presentation flow.

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