Introductions are a natural jumping off point at many meetings. They are a calm, polite way of setting a tone, letting everyone speak, and ostensibly, getting everyone to know everyone else.
However, it has been my experience that introductions can also be insidious little time wasters on many occasions, and they have the bad effect of slotting people into roles – something that is seldom useful, and often detrimental to doing real work .
A case in point: at one Open Space-type event I facilitated, with no introductions and no nametags, I got to enjoy an assistant deputy minister passionately debating a point with a data entry clerk. I knew their “roles” from their home organizations, and knew that the clerk in particular would have backed down if she had known she was up against a senior bureaucrat. As it was, they had no reference – they were from different provinces and had never met – and thus, they were simply two equals with a shared interest in an optimal outcome. Had they been “introduced”, human nature would have placed differing “values” on their roles, and the conversation likely would not have been one between equals.
For most of us – be honest – introductions are where two things happen.
- You spend the majority of the time rehearsing your own intro, and not listening to the group.
- No one bothers to remember everyone’s names. Why? Because, unless you already know them, or unless they are “famous” within your system, the information is irrelevant to your future well-being – at least until meaningful conversations turn up a place where someone becomes relevant. (And you aren’t having those conversations – remember? You’re blowing time on senseless introductions!)
If the intros are so trite as to only include name/rank/serial number, there’s no compelling reason for anyone to engage their curiosity and learn about their fellow attendees.
And if the atmosphere is so formal as to necessitate intros, you likely won’t be having any meaningful conversations anyhow. You might as well waste as much time as you can on introductions – throw in a couple of icebreakers as well if you can. It will get you closer to end of day and billing for your services!
“Why bother with introductions?” is all a part of the larger conversation between you and your core client(s). Why did they hire you in the first place? Will this group of people come together again? Is your client trying to build a team? If yes, then “team” is an outcome, and you need to design the event to build “team”. And name recognition is a part of that.
If not, skip the introductions. I guarantee that a small subset of your audience will be very uncomfortable – but a silent majority will wish you a silent vote of thanks for not forcing them to endure the intros. And, by mid-afternoon, all will be well. People will have self-introduced to those that need to know, you will have had more time to do real work, and you will enabled a tiny bit of useful chaos and curiosity into everyone’s day .
Overlook the formalities and get onto the real work.