In the course that I teach, the MLC Professionalization seminar (Prosem), we practice professional self-presentation by focusing on genres like the elevator pitch and the Tell Me About Yourself (TMAY) question in job interviews. But opportunities to talk about yourself are not limited to the job search context. In the classroom, you are often called upon to talk about yourself and your interests when there is a new instructor, at work when new teams are introducing themselves or at an association meeting or a conference, you will often hear “why don’t we go around the room and introduce ourselves?”
What would it mean to be ready for this moment?
If the situation allows for it, see whether you can talk first. Often what happens is that the rest of the group subconsciously patterns their responses on the model established by the first participant to this interaction (topics addressed, key, length of turn at talk). If you are the first one to go, you can set the frame, and if you are not, you can break it. You actually often hear this done anyways, for example if everyone is talking about the sports teams that they support, you may hear a person contributing their turn by saying “well, I don’t really follow sports, but…” they have attended to the discourse slot and will likely find something that might be appropriately comparable to slot in there.
Length of time
Groups often come to have a shared understanding of how long one talks about oneself in such occasions. In the business school classroom context, where I do research, this turn is significantly longer than in the Linguistics classroom – about 30-40 seconds on average to 10-20. Just imagine what you could do with that lost time! Plant the seed about a collaborative research idea, communicate to someone that you share an interest (like music or cooking or travel). You really never know who you are talking to and who they are connected to. Could be that this person is 2 degrees from a potential employer or client or new friend.
If you are a woman, chances are that your turn of talk in this context will tend to be shorter than that of your male counterparts. Consider whether you might try to “take up more room” conversationally, perhaps by telling a narrative.
Tell a story
Narratives tend to take a little bit longer, and provided that you are telling a story that paints you well, this is an excellent way to teach people about you or about something that you care about. I am of the opinion that a good story always teaches something and also gives insight into your unique way of seeing the world. A compelling story doesn’t even call the awareness of the listener to having done either.
A recent example was a visitor to our Prosem class who told us about how he got a job at a concert. Out on the town at a musical event, he ran into a former boss who happened to be looking to hire someone, and when she saw him, her brain made the connection, and he was happily in the right place at the right time to be lucky! When he told this story to our class, he spent a bit of time talking about the kind of music that was featured at this conference, a style of music that most of us were unfamiliar with. His enthusiasm was contagious and his passion for the topic endeared us to him. One of the best ways to connect to your audience is just to let them see what you care about – they can connect to you as a person, which is what networking is all about, really!
What do you care about? Start collecting and building some small stories that you can pull out as your personal pocket examples! Share them with us here or on Twitter or on LinkedIn, or…or…or….J