As a facilitator it is my responsibility to properly start a meeting. One of the things to do is the introduction round. On the one hand nobody seems to like it, because they don’t like to be in the middle of the attention and sometimes they are so occupied with ‘what to say’ that they don’t listen to others introducing themselves. On the other hand it is an important part of the meeting because it confirms who is there and it offers the opportunity to get to know each other better. Also it is sometimes assumed people know each other, so they want to skip the introduction round. I always insist on doing it, as it often turns out people do not know all participants (but they do not want to acknowledge it), or they vaguely know the others but forgot their names. From experience I know it is always good to do the introduction round; so let’s do it!
One pre-tip for you: As participants might forget what to say, I write the introduction questions on a flipchart so they can simply refer to that when they introduce themselves: 1) your name, 2) your function in this team, 3) your working location, and you might want to add 4) what are your expectations for this meeting?.
Instead of the most often used ‘creeping death’ method, which I will describe first, there are many ways to make the introduction round pleasant and informative. So let’s see what 10 tips I made for you, so you can select the one most suitable for your meeting.
1. Creeping death
This is the old-fashioned way where the participants keep sitting down, and the facilitator or chairman asks the person next to him/her to start, followed by the next person and going round in the circle. The last person will feel the ‘creeping death’ as by that time this person in their head will have changed his/her story many times, will get increasingly nervous and no one will listen to him/her any more as all participants start to loose attention after ‘their turn’. Please stop doing the introductions in this way! (Although in some contexts it might be the most appropriate way to do it.)
2. Throw the ball
Ask participants to stand up and form a circle. Introduce the ball (or any other object) and throw it to the first person to introduce him/herself. After they have introduced themselves, they throw the ball to the next person.
3. Walk the line
Here I will ask all participants to stand up and stand on an imaginary line on the floor visualising ‘years of experience in the company ’. The juniors at the beginning of the line, the seniors at the end. In this way A) everybody is standing/moving B) they need to talk with each other to find out where to stand C) often there is some laughing if people stand in the wrong place D) there is a start of interaction in the team E) they team will learn who is junior/who is senior and what the level of experience is in the room. If the team is standing on the line, then I will ask all to introduce themselves, starting with the juniors, ending with the seniors.
4. Circles of introduction
This is an extended version of ‘Walk the line’ which will deliver more (personal) information. It takes a bit more time, but also gives more information and energy. After ‘years of experience’, you can make additional lines or circles where I will ask the participants to stand in line of, for example: 1) years of experience in this function (and let them share former functions they worked in) 2) number of reorganizations you survived (and ask them which departments they used to work in) 3) number of children (and ask for their names) 4) number of minutes home/work commuting (and ask which town they live) 5) if it is an international team: number of hours away from the place you were born (and ask which country/town they were born) 6) colour of socks (and let them show their socks) 7) etc.
I have seen that this way of introduction helps getting to know each other as it gives links for further small talk with colleagues during breaks, for example I have heard people say; ‘So you were born in USA?’, or ‘So our children share the same name’, or ‘I did not know you live in xx-town too?!’.
5. Use objects
Have a separate table with objects (ball, book, pens, painting, toy, anything). Ask the participants to stand up and pick an object that they feel attracted to as it means something to them. In the introduction round they explain how the object is related to them. The next person to introduce him/herself can be someone who has a similar object or similar story. By this way of introduction the people will stay focussed and will tell nice (personal) stories based on the object they selected. I have seen that this method brings people together quickly as they will often find things (hobby, food, holidays) they have in common.
6. Select a picture
Have a separate table with magazines with lots of pictures in it or the Twynstra Gudde cards (see picture at top of this article, these cards can be ordered via managementboek.nl). Ask the participants to stand up and pick an picture that A) they feel attracted to as it means something to them or B) because it relates to the topic of today. (NOTE: as a facilitator you have to choose between ‘A) or B)’, otherwise you will find one participants telling something about him/herself and another participant telling about the topic of the day). In the introduction round they explain how the picture is related to A) them or B) the project. The next person to introduce him/herself can be someone who has a similar picture or similar story.
7. Be a journalist
Here I will ask the people to stand up and form couples. Then they find a place to sit together where they have to play a ‘journalist’ asking the other person who they are, what they do, why they like their job so much, hobbies, etc. Take 3-5 minutes for this. And then 3-5 minutes where they change roles. After these 6-10 minutes you will ask the journalists to introduce the person they interviewed. So, someone else is introducing you, which is exciting to hear what they remembered and how they will picture you.
Make two lines of chairs opposite of each other. All participants to sit down and introduce themselves to the person opposite of him/her. After 5 minutes the facilitator rings a bell as a signal for one row of people to move one place to the right and there is another 3 minutes of introduction. The downside of this method is that not all participants will get the opportunity to talk with everybody. Also people will find 3 minutes too short (so they will need to catch up with their ‘partners’ in a break!). The fun part is that it is lively, fun and energizing.
9. My keys
Ask the participants to put their personal keys on the table. Each participant introduces themselves by explaining what keys they have: car keys, home keys, bicycle keys. Many participants have extra’s things hanging with their keys, like amulets from places they visited while on holiday, or pictures from their children.
10. I am an animal
Ask the participants to stand up and make a circle. Next ask them ‘If you were an animal, what would you be?’. Group the same type of people/animals together, so people who are ‘cats/dogs’ together, or ‘reptiles like snakes/scorpion’ or ‘lions/buffalo’ etc. Then ask people per group to introduce themselves.
You can do the same exercise, but then ask ‘If you look at the topic of today, what type of animal would that be?’. You will be surprised what participants will come up with: spider, killer bee, ant, etc. This will enable the participants to share how they feel about the topic.
Thank you for reading these introduction tips. I am sure there are many other ways to start the day with an energizing and informative introduction round.
I am inviting you to share your tips!