It’s easy on quiz shows. ‘Hi, I’m Brad, I’m 42 and I’m a sales executive from Cardiff’ is a snappy and concise introduction. In real-life situations, we prefer more nuanced ways of exchanging information and sussing each other out.
There used to be a strict etiquette for introductions. The famous British reserve was mocked in jokes, such as the story of the two Englishmen who were stranded together for six months on a desert island but didn’t speak because they hadn’t been introduced.
The slackening of rules has made communication easier and more fun but the lack of guidelines can make us feel awkward and embarrassed and not sure if we’re getting it right. Here’s how you can get it right.
When to introduce yourself
Exchanging names and personal information is a notch up from making general small talk.
So you might not introduce yourself to the person with whom you swap pleasantries at the bus stop or in the coffee shop when you see them, but you might to somebody you meet regularly when you are picking up your kids from school.
We introduce ourselves when we are likely to be spending some time together, and when our social orbits will bring us into frequent contact.
Introducing yourself is also a way of indicating that you would like to get to know somebody better. It happens in romcoms – ‘I’m Darcy, by the way.’ Oh yes, this will go further!
Choose one thing about yourself that will help the other person to place you and connect with you.
- At a party, it might be how you know the host.
‘Hi, I’m Liz. I went to school with Richard.’
- At an event such as a dinner or reception, say what you are enjoying about the food, music, décor, whatever seems to fit.
‘Hi, I’m Richard. I’m loving this 80s’ music they’re playing. Takes me back.’
- At a local event, you could say where you live or where you work, if appropriate.
‘I’m Liz. We live just round the corner. I work in that office supplies shop at the end of the road.’
- At the school playground or meeting, you might say who your children are.
‘I’m Richard. I’ve got a daughter in Year 8 and a son in Year 11.
- At a talk or presentation, you could say what your interest in the subject is.
“Hi, I’m Liz. I love (the speaker’s) books so I’m really looking forward to this/I’m interested in finding out about how the new development will affect traffic.’
Notice that all of these openings give the other person a lead for a response. If a response isn’t forthcoming, all you have to do is add ‘How about you?’
Add a little colour with an elevator pitch
You can include some information which adds some colour gives a sense of your personality.
You may be familiar with the concept of the elevator pitch. It is based on the notion that you should prepare a short, pithy, compelling description of yourself and what you can offer.
So when you find yourself in an elevator, or lift, with someone influential, you can make an impression in the length of time it takes to travel between a few floors. When the doors open, the story goes, you find yourself with a job offer, or a book contract, or a charitable donation, or an investment, or a promotion.
It sounds like something that would take place in an old film. ‘Well, dang me, Miss Ermintrude, that’s the best idea I’ve heard in an age! Now I want you to go right ahead and…’
And Miss Ermintrude goes from being the office nobody to heading the company and marrying the boss, only to find that an ambitious rival challenges her in love and at work….enough.
What is more likely, an elevator pitch may attract some interest in what you say which could lead to further conversation, or a meeting, or an exchange of contact details.
Thousands of us prepare a kind of elevator pitch for circumstances other than work. It’s what you do when you write a profile for Twitter and other social or information sharing media. You choose a few words which convey the image that you want to present, words which define you in the particular context.
The way you describe yourself as a candidate for a club or a member of a parents’ or neighbourhood association will be different from the way you want to come across on an internet dating site, for example.
Choose the way you give information about what you do
If you don’t say it, you will be asked, so prepare how you want to present what you do for a living, or how you spend your days. It’s not an interview. You don’t have to give your job title or description. Say as little or as much as you want to about your paid or unpaid activities.
- ‘I’m a systems analyst at Brown and Co. When I’m not working, I do as much golf/tennis/ running/TV watching as I can.’
- “I teach six-year-olds, and absolutely love it.’
Here’s your chance to add a little colour.
- ‘Mother of three during the day, salsa dancer at night.’
Modesty is fine, but sometimes it’s better to let people know pretty quickly if you have a high-profile job, particularly if they are going to find out anyway.
Beware of the humblebrag.
- ‘I run a fairly large organisation that you might have heard of. Microsoft?’
When you realise that nice Robbie from the club who said he had a part-time job at the hospital is actually about to remove your appendix, you do not feel charmed by his modest reticence. You just feel stupid.
And as we know, it’s all about making each other feel good.