"OK let's start by having everyone introduce yourself to the group"...
Sound familiar at most community events you’ve been to?
I’ve hosted many smaller online and offline events where people in the room do not know each other, and it’s the role of a community builder to help them feel more connected.
Feeling more connected encourages members to engage with the community. And introducing members at community events is usually where you would start.
Just asking people one by one to introduce themselves to each other is usually the standard way to help people know “who is in the room”.
But there’s a BETTER way to facilitate introductions!
At the very bare minimum, I’ve always provided prompts to members for people’s introductions to ensure they felt like there were some guidelines.
It’s usually pretty daunting for people to just go ahead and “introduce themselves”.
If they are given some prompts such as asking them to
- State their name (obvious!)
- Where they are from
- Why they joined the community/ Why they are here
- Provide an answer to something more lighthearted such as an interesting fact about themselves that nobody else knows
That’s not a bad start.
But it becomes pretty boring, real fast.
Ever sat in a room listening to groups of people introduce themselves but before you know it you have zoned out because you have other things on your mind or you find the introductions too “robotic”.
It’s missing that extra “spice” that encourages people listening to ACTIVELY listen.
How to faciliate introductions to create BETTER connections
It’s helpful to look at this through a couple of examples to show you how effective these strategies can be.
These are REAL LIFE use cases where I have witnessed connections being made in real time between people who did not know each other at the beginning of the event.
Example one: BOOK CLUB
I recently attended an inaugural book club meeting, where the participants were meeting each other for the very first time.
The first book selected was a book focused on spirituality. Before jumping in to discuss the book, it made sense for people to introduce themselves to the each other.
We could have gone around the room and introduced each other using the prompts mentioned above. But the time we approached introductions differently.
The prompt was a theme.
In this case, the theme was spirituality. We had all come together to discuss a book focused on spirituality, so it made sense to choose this theme.
You should choose a theme that is relevant to people in the room (side note: this does NOT mean they have to be experts in this theme, they just have to know what it means. If they don’t know what it means/ require further clarification then make sure you define this at the beginning).
Because we all knew what the term “spirituality” referred to, we were able to use this theme and weave it into introductions. Here’s the introduction prompt that went around the room:
Introduce yourself by telling us:
- Your name
- Your relationship/ journey with spirituality
That’s it. No mention of which country they were from (and this book club had people that had dropped in from different countries!). No mention of career, why they were at the book club or any other question.
Here’s the interesting thing what happened: all of those other points (such as people’s careers, where they were brought up etc) got WEAVED into the second prompt around their relationship with spirituality.
It changed the way people introduced themselves because the focus was on a specific theme.
Everyone was actively listening as it was fascinating to hear how their interactions with spirituality had evolved over their lives – with some mentioning key moments in their past or present.
The introductions were the DEEPEST intros I’d ever heard from a group of people.
Now you may think this is just because of the theme selected. Spirituality is quite a deep topic after all. But that’s the point – you are in charge of the theme, and my suggestion here is that you DO go deep.
Every single person in that book club felt like they really got to know more about each other in the first 10 minutes to the point they felt incredibly comfortable.
We went from being in a room full of strangers to being in a room with people we felt we understood better, and able to connect with.
Discussions about the book were more in depth, as people were able to ask questions from other people that they certainly would not have been comfortable or confident asking with complete strangers.
Example two: SUPPER CLUB
I also recently attended a supper club – where strangers get together at a enjoy a delicious dinner served by a chef at their home. Again, we had a group of people who were meeting each other for the very first time.
Again this can cause more introverted people to feel incredibly anxious – being in a room of strangers and having to make conversation. But here’s what made it interesting:
There were rules provided before the event.
These rules specifically covered how people were to interact with each other at the supper. You were NOT allowed to discuss the following with any other person:
- Where you were originally from
- How long you had lived in the city for or any other location details
- What you did for a living (your career)
This covers a LOT of what is usually asked when meeting people for the first time.
This can easily cause a LOT of anxiety in people.
In fact, right at the beginning of the event when people starting entering the room, you could see people starting to look anxious.
In fact, someone stated their name to the gorup and then said “Now what can I say?”!
So after noticing how effective the theme prompt was from the book club event, I kicked things off asking everyone who had attended a supper club or foodie event before and what their experiences were like.
Conversation flowed, and in fact people started taking tips from each other as they found out new supper clubs or restaurants they hadn’t tried before.
Everyone was there because they were passionate about FOOD in some way, and so the theme revolved around that (but in a more niche way – specifically about unique events revolving around food).
Then one of the participants started talking about an uncommon wine in such depth that someone asked if they were a sommelier. And here’s where the fun began.
The rules stated we could not tell others where we were from or what we did for a living, BUT others COULD guess and we could confirm if they were correct.
You suddenly had everyone listening to people in a different way, trying to hear if any “hints” were thrown around based on what they were talking about.
I noticed people felt more relaxed as they weren’t being judged based on characteristics that society usually judges them on (i.e. what they did for a living). There’s something freeing at sitting at a table not knowing these “basics” about people but then discussing other topics in depth.
So this intro hack had set parameters for what people couldn’t discuss, and in doing so it created a completely different atmosphere for people to connect in different ways.
There were also conversation cue cards that were used at any time the conversation stalled – which asked questions like “what was the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you?”. Again – these questions helped you get to know these people at a level that is not usually shared between strangers.
By the end of the evening, we all went around the table disclosing what we did, where we were from etc – and it was FUN to learn these details (rather than feel like you were checking off a list or putting people into buckets based on these facts).
Everyone exchanged details at the end of the supper club and people still stay in touch after the event.
Facilitate introductions to encourage connection
Introductions between people are not just a “check list” item – they are an incredibly important tool that community builders can use to encourage deeper connections between strangers.
Introductions but use a THEME
Just like the book club example, consider asking people to introduce themselves around a theme that is relevant to those in the room.
Introductions but use PARAMETERS
By encouraging people to avoid the status quo with their introductions, it opens up a new way for people to connect.
Avoid typical points such as where people are from, how long they have lived somewhere, what their career story is…. this usually results in people “bucketing” others in stereotypes and switching off.
Instead, tell people what they CAN’T disclose, and things become a bit more interesting.
Make sure to use conversation cues, themes etc to help people introduce themselves in a way that doesn’t cause social anxiety!
Here’s my Youtube video discussing this topic in further detail: