Introduction to self-description

How and why to create self-descriptions when you introduce yourself during events and presentations

Conversations are happening more often in the virtual world, and we are always learning. Using self-description in your introductions is one way to create inclusive digital spaces.

What is self-description?

Self-descriptions are one way to make your events more inclusive. We want to reiterate that self-descriptions are just that: one way to make events more inclusive. It’s not necessary to require other people to provide self-descriptions, which are a matter of personal comfort on what a person chooses to share. If you choose to describe yourself during your introduction to the group, you are taking steps to include participants that may not be able to see you. Additionally, what you choose to describe could help your audience connect with you, and understand that we’re all bringing multiple identities and perspectives to the event. Consider these three examples of self-introductions:

Hi! My name is Jodie. Before I begin — to increase accessibility and inclusivity in our conversation today — I’m sharing a little bit about myself. My pronouns are she/her. I’m a recent breast cancer survivor with shoulder-length blonde hair, and I’m wearing a pop of pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
My name is Tia. I use she/they pronouns. I’m an East Asian person with medium length blue hair with bangs. I’m wearing a black shirt with a gray hoodie, and I’m in my office which has white walls, and there are a couple of doors behind me.
Hi, I’m Bo, and I’m a content strategist. My pronouns are he/him, and I have white skin and shaggy gray hair. If my screen weren’t blurred, you’d see my dogs coming in and out of the room.

Why use self-description?

These self-descriptions help people who may not be able to see the presentation know some of the context and identity markers of the presenters. They also let attendees know that this is a space where people of different health statuses, ages, gender identities, family types, etc. are present and leading the conversation. There is a subtext within these introductions that turns sharing personal identity into a way to ensure that the event feels inclusive and welcoming.

You may even learn about self-descriptors that are unfamiliar to you. It’s important in these cases to research terms that are new to you on your own, rather than asking the speaker directly. For example, if someone describes themselves as “cisgender” (also “cis” for short) and you’re unfamiliar with the word, a quick internet search would tell you that the adjective cisgender is a term to describe someone who identifies with the same gender that they were assigned at birth— just as transgender describes someone who identifies with a gender that is different from the one they were assigned at birth. This terminology has its roots in the sciences where the Latin prefix “cis-” is added to a word to indicate that something is “on this side of” or “on the same side,” while the Latin prefix “trans-” means that something is “on the other side of” or “across from."

How to create your self-description

What you include in your self-description is up to you. Some possibilities are:

  • Clothing or hair color
  • What type of room you’re in, or background photo filter in use
  • Personal identity
  • Preferred pronouns

When you use self-description, keep in mind these four best practices:

  1. Practice. Practice getting comfortable with using self-description, and ask for feedback before and after using self-description.
  2. Explain why. Briefly state why you’re sharing your pronouns and self-descriptions before sharing them. See Jodie’s example above. She starts by stating, “Before I begin — to increase accessibility and inclusivity in our conversation today — I’m sharing a little bit about myself.“ This context helps attendees understand why you’re sharing this information with them, especially since it is a newer practice and may not be common in all organizations.
  3. Take context into consideration. Self-descriptions are quick sketches, not fine art. Decide what you want to share, with who, and when. For example, you may choose to share more personal information with 50 colleagues who work at your organization and where you know the culture and feel safe. On the other hand, you may choose to share less information about yourself when presenting at a large conference with thousands of people who you don’t know. You may choose not to share a self-description in some contexts. This is appropriate and expected.
  4. Stay tuned-in. Make sure you’re following leading conversations on professional platforms about best practices for inclusivity. Things change as we learn and share more.