Autobiographical Introductions

In extended autobiographical introductions at the start of a workshop, discussion group, or CPR space, each participant takes the same amount of time, say five minutes or 15 minutes, to describe how they came to be a person who would join a workshop, discussion group, or whatever on the topic it has. The form of the autobiographical introduction will differ from person to person – some may choose to start with their childhood and move forward; others may choose to elaborate on recent activities before making reference to some formative experiences. Some may emphasize events; others how events were experienced.  The focus is on listening so the speaker should not be questioned except to clarify and name or point that did not come across clearly.  If a participant finishes the introduction before the allotted time, the facilitator invites them to elaborate on some aspect. The additional material that then emerges often provides new richness and depth to this story.

When participants have the opportunity to introduce themselves in this way, many points of potential interaction are exposed. To foster connections, participants are encouraged to take notes when they see intersections with themselves and areas that spark other interest or curiosity. After each introduction, participants can provide the speaker with “connections and extensions” feedback (on a piece of paper, a chat box, or a pre-prepared online form if the meeting is online). This might give one point of intersection with the listener’s interests and one direction the listener could imagine the speaker’s work being extended. Time permitting, the connections and extensions sheet can include also a question the listener would like to take up with the speaker.

Especially when introductions are long, 10 or 15 minutes, it helps to take a break after every third speaker and have discussions in pairs about what is emerging for the listeners. At the end, pairwise discussions can allow participants to air what they forgot to say that is significant to them. If time permits, the group as a whole can use the turn-taking dialogue process to share what arose in the pairs or otherwise to respond to what was being said.

When autobiographical interactions work as intended, a group not only has an abundance of points of potential interaction to build on, but a basis for trust and taking risks with the other participants.

(A possible new entry in a revised edition of Taking Yourself Seriously, http://bit.ly/NNN2012)

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About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

One Response to Autobiographical Introductions

  1. Teryl Cartwright says:

    I look forward to this and hope for a new book too, perhaps Taking Others Seriously or Taking Collaboration Seriously, since the authors have some interesting ideas and extensions from this past year that are beyond revisions. Posting because I’m in DC waiting to drive home in this storm. It was nice to have some posts and the CCT newsletter to read today as I waited, so offering my two cents in return.

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