By Michael Grothaus
There you are, in front of the person or audience that you want to impress with your killer idea. You know they are going to love it, but you are so preoccupied with pulling off your pitch that you ramble and botch (or completely overlook) the most important part: telling them who you are.
The point of introductions in the business world is to quickly establish your credibility to the people you are communicating with, according to Sylvia Baldock, a leadership development expert who is also a seasoned professional speaker, trainer, coach, and networking guru. Unfortunately, most people often flub their introductions, which leaves their audience lackadaisical about whatever they have to say that comes next, at best, or downright offended, at worst.
“Things you should never do including interrupting conversation to announce your name, just talking about yourself, thrusting your business card or flyer into someone’s hand, or going into ‘sales mode’,” says Baldock. Unfortunately, for many professions, the above constitutes their “introduction” all too often.
So what makes a good introduction? It depends on the medium and the audience, but if you pull it off well it will leave your audience more willing–or even excited–to hear what else you have to say. Here’s how to introduce yourself in virtually any situation.
IN AN EMAIL
You’ve finally got that email address for that VC you hope will invest in your company or that journalist you hope will write about it. Now don’t blow it by sending a totally generic email. If you want someone who you’ve never met to take time from their day to read your pitch, the first thing you need to do is impress upon them why they should read your email over the dozens of other ones.
“Cold emails are rarely well received nowadays. We are so overloaded with emails that we rarely even open any from unknown people. We tend to treat them as spam,” Baldock says. “If you do have to send one, start with a very impactful subject line, which is personalized to the person and their current needs.”
If you have met them before–even briefly– Baldock says a great subject line is “It was great to meet you.” If you haven’t met them before try to find a mutual acquaintance, get their permission, and open with the subject line “Our mutual friend/client (state their name) thinks we should chat.” This immediately builds a connection, which will probably spur them to at least read the first few lines of the message. Don’t waste those lines: Remind them immediately of who you are, where you met (or why a mutual acquaintance thinks you should), and what you do (“Hi John, it’s Michael from ABC Labs. I’m the head of machine learning over there, who you met at the TED Talk last week.”). Then get to the point of how you–and your experience/business/idea–can benefit everyone involved.
OVER THE PHONE
Phone introductions can be anxiety-inducing, especially if we are calling someone we hardly know or have never even met.
Thankfully, Baldock says it’s simple to put yourself at ease so you can sound natural. “Stand up–you are always much more powerful when you are on your feet–and smile–it makes your voice sound much warmer. Vocal warm-up is good, especially if you haven’t spoken much that day–phonic sounds like ‘b’ ‘d’ ‘g’–warm up the hard palate and again phonic sounds like ‘m, n, ing’ warm up the soft palate. Singing ‘Doh a Deer’ going up and down the octaves is also a great warm-up.”
Those exercises will make you sound warm and authentic, lowering your callee’s defenses (and propensity to hang up). Now just do as you would in an email: Tell them who you are, why you matter, and where/if you’ve met. Just keep it brief. And one thing that is sure to endear them to you: After your intro, ask them how much time they have for a chat right now–and stick to that timeline. They’ll appreciate it and be more receptive to your pitch.
AT A JOB INTERVIEW
In-person introductions can even be more nerve-racking than virtual ones. Perhaps this is nowhere more true than when you show up to a job interview.
At a job interview the prospective employer probably already knows a lot about you thanks to your resume and social media presence. What they are looking for in a first in-person introduction then is a “good, natural vibe.” Does this person seem like a friendly person my other staff could work with day in and day out, or does this guy seem like an awkward jerk?
“Be yourself–don’t try to fake confidence, just be authentic,” says Baldock. Making a good first impression is actually really simple: Smile, state your name, and extend a hand and you’ve pretty much nailed your intro. “A firm handshake and a warm smile go a long way to making the right first impression. Also, mention something you’ve noticed about the company or the building on your way in just to start on a lighthearted note. If they don’t rise to greet you–don’t take it personally–that’s just the way they operate. Rise above it and reach out to shake their hand with confidence and ask if it’s okay to sit down.”
IN A COMPANY MEETING
But what about a situation where you’ve already got the job and now it’s your job to give a big talk to a large group of employees? Depending on the size of the company, some may know you and some may not. In this case, Baldock says it’s best to treat everyone equally and assume no one knows who you are or why they should listen to you. This helps lower defenses and won’t make anyone feel that they aren’t “in the know.”
Also, unlike one-on-one email, phone, or job interview intros, if you’re addressing a large audience, this is the time you can bring in some help and have someone else introduce you. This is known as a “warm introduction” and it helps you look like less of an arrogant blowhard if you want people to know why you’re so great. Imagine a speaker on stage who says “I’m your CFO and also a New York Times best-selling author who wrote the most popular business book of the year.” That kind of makes her sound a conceited, doesn’t it? Now imagine if someone else at the company introduces her, saying, “Jenny isn’t only our CFO, she’s also the New York Times best-selling author of the most popular business book of the year.” See the difference?
Also, if you do have someone introduce you, when it is your turn to speak after the introduction, consider taking yourself down a notch, says Baldock. “Self-deprecating humor will get the audience on your side very quickly and put them at ease.”
AT A NETWORKING EVENT
This final scenario is also one of the easiest because most networking events are fairly casual once people are mingling with drinks in their hands. So what if you see someone important you want to make an impression on? Chances are if they are that important they already have a group of people around them. Whatever you do, don’t just charge over, force yourself into the conversation, and shove a business card in the person’s face.
“If he has a large group of people around him, he has something special to offer or is very charismatic and he will be used to people wanting to connect with him,” says Baldock. “Walk over to the group with confidence and catch his eye. [He] is in control at that moment so you want to catch their attention. Nine times out of 10 they will nod or make eye contact acknowledging you are there and subliminally invite you to join. When there is a break in the conversation, he or someone else will inevitably say, ‘come and join us’ or ‘what do you do?’”
And there you have it: You’ve just been asked to introduce yourself without ever saying a word. Just one thing, Baldock says. “Make sure you have a great answer to that often asked question–don’t just give a job title, as that stifle conversation. Tell them the benefits of what you do so they want to ask more.”