I recently co-organized an event with a couple hours of presentations and about 70 people in the audience. At the beginning, each person in the crowd was asked to quickly introduce themselves with three words that described them. Most people choose words that relate to their hobbies or work, like “coding, health, innovation.”
As a typically anxious and misanthropic New Yorker, I wanted us to skip this entirely. I hate being in the audience for this kind of thing. I never know what to say, even without an added rule like this, and I can feel the pressure building as my turn draws nearer. I never hear anyone before me because I’m trying to think of what I’ll say, nor anyone afterwards because I’m too flooded with relief that I haven’t (if I haven’t) blurted out some horrible confession.
But my co-organizers convinced me that for better-adjusted and less guilt-ridden people, this was a very helpful feature of the evening, especially because it provides an icebreaker for conversations later on (“You’re into innovation? Me too!”)
Still, as a speaker, I had an excuse (albeit a flimsy one) to pass this time, and I was able to observe the rest of the introductions without distraction. They seemed to get longer as we moved around the room and each person tried to fit more information into their “three words.” What started as three words quickly became “three phrases,” then “a sentence with three commas,” and so on. It reminded me of a certain classic Monty Python sketch:
Chapman: I didn’t expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition.
[The door flies open and Cardinal Ximinez of Spain enters, flanked by two junior cardinals.]
Ximinez: NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise…surprise and fear…fear and surprise…. Our two weapons are fear and surprise…and ruthless efficiency…. Our three weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency…and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope…. Our four…no… Amongst our weapons…. Amongst our weaponry…are such elements as fear, surprise…. I’ll come in again.
I suspect that if we have another fifty people at the next one, the last few will be giving a tearful account of their entire life story. If I’m stationed at the end, I may just collapse from the pressure. But in case I’m near the beginning, I’ve already begun thinking of the most disturbing or unusual possible three-word (or three-phrase) combos. They could be directly connected (“kittens, archery, taxidermy”) or a little more cryptic (“surveillance, military surplus, online dating”) but the ideal would be a complete non sequitur that still inspires a vague sense of unease.
I wasn’t sure it would be easy to top “fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency,” but I polled my Facebook friends for some suggestions. Here are some of the best (PG-rated) ones that they came up with:
“wheelchair racing, tap dancing, witchcraft”
“flowers, devotion, trepanning”
“landscaping, rock climbing, therapy” (from Noella)
“synthetic biology, polyamory, cult expert”
“sanitation, concrete, bridge enthusiast”
“closed systems, dinosaur saddles, Christian radio”
“survivalism, leather, family”
“pharmaceuticals, cocktail parties, large groups”
“cooking, bacteria, weight loss”
Feel free to continue the list in the comments if you have more suggestions. As the three-word introduction trend spreads, we’ll be creating a valuable resource for the resistance.