There seems to be a national epidemic of awkwardness and insecurity when it comes to introductions, especially when it involves introducing one’s self to a chattering circle of guests at a party or business event. Here then is some advice on exactly how to do this. Do not be afraid! Anybody can do this. It’s not a gift that only a few are born with, but a skill to be learned, like driving a car or painting a room.
- First, have confidence. The fact that you’re able to walk up to a person or small group already engaged in conversation and introduce yourself gives a strong indication of self-confidence, which impresses people. Smile, wait politely for the person who is talking to finish, make eye contact with one of the people in the group and extend your hand. Then say, “Hello, my name is (your name here).” That’s all it takes to get the ball rolling. And choose your target carefully. Don’t walk up to a pair of people who appear to be engaged in an earnest conversation, because you will be interrupting them. Look for a loose group of people who seem to be chatting easily.
Shake hands with the others in the group, and prepare to enter the flow of the conversation. If you can catch a little of what they were discussing when you walked up, that’s the best place to start: “Were you just talking about that last speaker? So insightful, didn’t you think?” Or offer some tidbit of information about yourself that will create a connection, as in “I’m Joe’s brother and I’m visiting from Denver.” If this lands with a thud, remember that not everyone possesses your suave social skills, and you may need to help them a bit. From there, you can say, “How do you know Joe?” That will get them talking and help you to find common ground.
- Don’t be easily discouraged. If you employ these methods and don’t make headway with the people you’re trying to meet, don’t take it personally. It’s not you, it’s them. The ability to make the acquaintance of a complete stranger is an important skill in modern life – which many people do not possess. If they don’t respond to you, they probably don’t know how to respond. And remember that this works both ways. If someone introduces themselves to you, it’s appropriate to be polite and welcoming, and engage in small talk, even if they don’t appear to be someone you have much in common with. It’s five minutes out of your life, and it’s the kind thing to do.
- It’s common to chat with a person for a short time and find that you really don’t have much to talk about. This can create an awkward moment when you want to disengage from the conversation politely. Don’t feel uncomfortable about doing this; chances are the other person is ready to move on also. Just do it nicely. Some graceful exit lines: “It’s been so nice to meet you. I hope we see each other again.” Another way out: “I’m going to get a drink. Can I bring you something?” By offering to return with a drink you’ve given them the sense that you’re not trying to escape their company, but that you really do want a drink. (Chances are they won’t want a drink, so you’re off the hook.)
- Another way to disengage is to introduce the person you’re talking with to someone else. The handoff should be smooth, with you remaining for a few moments until both parties are chatting. Then you can say, “Would you excuse me? I just saw my friend over there.” and make your escape.
- When making introductions, there are a few simple rules. An older person should be introduced to a younger person first, and then the younger person is introduced to his elder. I think it’s nice to introduce a woman first to a man, rather than the other way around. It helps the conversation enormously if after introducing people you tell them what they have in common, or create a commonality for them. For example, “Heather, this is Bob Smith. Bob, I’d like you to meet Heather Jones. I met both of you at the last conference I attended in Boston.” Or “Heather is married to your colleague, John Doe.”
- It’s not unusual to not remember the name of someone you just met, and at a big cocktail party it’s often difficult to hear names when people are introduced. Don’t be afraid to say you didn’t quite hear what they said and ask them to repeat their name. If you have to introduce someone whose name you can’t remember, first introduce the person whose name you do know. Then turn to the other person and say, “Have you two met?” This gives them an opportunity to introduce themselves directly, saying their name in the process. And you escape unscathed from another tricky social situation.
As is the case with many things in life, relax and be confident, and all good things will flow from there.