know thyself

December 26, 2019

illustration by nilesh juvalekar

First impressions can make or break you in today’s attention-deficit, fast-paced world. Crafting the perfect introduction to yourself is thus paramount, on a personal and professional level. Doing this requires a thorough knowledge of yourself and your non-verbal communication, all while being respectfully aware of the other person in the conversation.

It is said that Oscar Wilde once commented: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” The age-old question, however, does remain: “Who am I?”—the exploration of the self demands introspection; but why bother in these hectic times about exploring, discovering, and re-discovering the self? Perhaps because if you do not know who you are, how will others? The exploration of the self at various levels—physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and so on begins at various stages of our lives. As the journey unfolds, so do we, layer by layer. So, what do we need to do to understand the self, its origin, evolution, and existence? The answer is not an easy one, as it involves an internal search and not an external one.

In our professional and personal lives, introduction of the self is a recurring phenomenon. How many of us can maintain a balance between going overboard about our achievements and milestones, while remaining painfully humble about our journeys? The art of communicating more in less helps, thereby. I recall an experience while teaching at a media institute: the students were challenged to introduce themselves in five sentences—a challenge, indeed. Not only did the thought process take a lot of time, but the results were dismal in terms of creativity and adherence to the brief. Each intro listed the student’s name, age, educational and professional backgrounds, and perhaps a hobby or two. Not only was the much-needed content lacking, but even the deficient non-verbal communication added to the lacklustre presentation—something an introduction should definitely not showcase. The self demands respect, does it not? Every living creature does, so why do we falter when the platform is offered to us?

In our professional and personal lives, introduction of the self is a recurring phenomenon.

What, then, is the solution? Well, practice, practice, and practice, but before that, encompassing your life and its multiple aspects in points, summarizing the same succinctly, in a nutshell, is the beginning. Remember, you do not have all day. Attention spans are meager. Add to this, the spices of non-verbal communication: voice modulation, facial expressions, body language, gestures, posture, and so much more. Are we aware of these when we introduce ourselves at any public forum? The third aspect is respect for the self, and respect for the listener. You are important, yes, but so is the other. How is the other reacting to your introduction? Being aware of the self and of the other are both crucial. Being garrulous seldom helps.

Many times, confidence—over and under—are seen as challenges while facing a public forum of any type. How do I look? Does the way I dress find acceptance? How do people perceive me? Am I able to influence, please, or attract the people who matter for my professional and/or personal growth? The answer to all these questions, and more, lies in a simple quote by Friedrich Nietzsche: “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” However, this does not mean that ‘I am what I am’ is thrown at the face of others each time you feel you do not want to change. Remember, change is the only constant. The answer to everything lies in striking a balance: being yourself, yet rediscovering; learning, yet unlearning; evolving, yet staying rooted.

Once we master the self, the rest is relatively easy. This also applies to the presentation of the self. In today’s professional world, it is demanded of one to present something or the other, in a professional context, on a public domain of any type, as impactfully as is required and possible. This ‘something’ can be a product or service in the profession one is in. Like the self, how much you know about the product/service determines your success in introducing it. Not only how much, but also how well (or how deep) you know the same is vital. If the answer to both these questions is in the affirmative, then be prepared to handle questions that could be hurled at you pertaining to the concerned product/service. And remember, you cannot have all the answers, all the time. So accept that you need to check and revert, and please, do revert.

In today’s professional world, it is demanded of one to present something or the other, in a professional context, on a public domain of any type, as impactfully as is required and possible.

Of course, besides the knowledge component and the experience that comes with time, it is how you present what you need to present. This includes a deep understanding of your target audience: what are their needs, requirements, and desires? What are their backgrounds and age groups? How do they stand to gain from what you are presenting? How will you hold their attention? What you present is paramount, but its foundational pillar is how you present it. Your voice: does it carry the message effectively? Does it captivate your audience? Make them want to know more? Your body language: does it strengthen a connect with your audience? Do your gestures, facial expressions, movements, and eye expressions help sustain that connect? First impressions are important too, but what is most important is how you carry forward your presentation—do you make it a drag or an experience? You have the product/service at hand, but how do you make the time spent by your audience worth their while? Facts, figures, humor, quotes, personal experiences, experiences of the unanimous, your audience’s experiences, involvement of the audience, graphics, videos, audio, the list goes on. Sheer dynamism decides which tool you use. You have to be ready to be dynamic, feeling the pulse of your audience regularly during the course of the presentation, changing, adapting…much like life, actually.

So, the next time you step out for any kind of presentation under the sun, remember who you are and what you are there for. Give your best, like there is no other, while being present in the moment; learning always, adapting always, improvising and enhancing always. Your memories and experiences serve as stepping stones towards betterment. Always. No wonder they say: practice makes perfect. But do we want to be perfect? Is that our goal in life? Let us pause and think. 