We all have heard, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” The reason we have all heard it is because it’s true, and first impressions are important. In your career, you will introduce yourself at any number of events. It’s important that you choose the proper introduction so that people get the proper first impression.
In other words, DON’T do something like this:
“I’ve been living in [STATE NAME] for the last 49 years with my fourth husband of 26 years. I guess I finally found one who didn’t want to get rid of me!”
She was introducing herself to us at the business mixer and networking event. After I had processed her statement, I wondered what possible strategy could have been to her introduction? Maybe she was trying to connect with other four-times married or thrice-divorced people? Was she looking for sympathy? Empathy? Perhaps it was intended to be funny or even ironic?
If I knew her, understood her story, had time to get to know her as a person, I wouldn’t necessarily feel the same way about her introduction. If she were the comedy act designed to warm up the room, I wouldn’t make the same judgment about her introduction. There is even a part of me that appreciates her candor and willingness to “be herself” no matter the cost. However, I don’t know her and she isn’t a comedy act. This is how she introduced herself, so I have no context with which to compare this information. So while it was colorful and informative, it was also off-putting.
This example raises the obvious question of what are proper introductions for a leader? How do you present yourself in a favorable light and as someone with whom others want to interact? Here are a few tips for networking introductions that have worked for me:
- Be positive. The woman in the example was anything but positive. All those negatives in her beginning statement made me want to run away—not exactly a great strategy for beginning new (or keeping old) relationships.
- Be approachable. Total strangers are more likely to be open if you are open to them. Body language (folding arms across one’s body, frowning, looking down, avoiding eye contact, etc.) is one of the many ways we communicate to someone, “Stay away.”
- Be appropriate. If two people are having an intense or even intimate conversation going, don’t barge in. Find another new person to meet or grab another hors d’ oeuvre.
- Be gracious. If someone is less than welcoming or distracted, find a way to exit with a smile.
- Be timely and bold when it’s time. Watch for the right opportunity to present yourself but don’t wait so long you miss it. Sometimes you have to be a little bold to enter into a conversation already in motion. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I’d love to meet you,” or, “I hope I’m not intruding, but this is my first time in this group….” Chance of being rebuffed? Sure. Permanent injury? Doubtful.
- Be strategic. Assess the room, figure out who is alone and might be more approachable but don’t miss the key players who are likely going to be in the midst of it all.
- Be interested, not interesting! If there’s a key to being gracious when meeting new people, it is to find ways to get to know them—and not worry about them knowing about you. That will come.
FYI, the best networking tool I’ve ever seen was at a going away party for a colleague. At the sign in desk, guests were all given name tags with two questions to fill in: “Name….” and “Ask me about…….” Because of the easy lead-in, it was the most fun–and productive–networking event I’ve ever attended!
Networking gracefully is an excellent plus for leaders, particularly in the nonprofit world. Work on being yourself—but a polished and gracious version of yourself—and you are likely to benefit more from your introductions.