Let’s face it, our face-to-face personal skills have taken a back seat to virtual greetings on tiny screens. The typical meeting today is like conversing with the cast of the Brady Bunch except they are floating on top of marginally effective green screen backgrounds. Not to mention the ubiquitous “You’re On Mute” chorus that I must mentally transform into a Zen mantra to avoid screaming. Yes, it is quite possible we are out of practice when it comes to the art of personal introductions.
I am sharing three of my tips for making this easier for the introverted and out-of-practice extroverts alike.
Do some prep and know your audience!
What you are looking for is some basic research ahead of time on the function at which you are attending. Is this a non-profit fundraiser, industry conference, or local PTA ice cream social. Regardless of the situation, it is likely you have some personal connections that will serve as a pool of information for you to draw upon during cold introductions.
This does not mean you spend time crafting dialog, what you are trying to attain is a foundation of at hand knowledge so that when you approach a person or group you have a topic specific to the event with which you can start the conversation.
- “Hi, my name is Bobby, this is my first time at this conference. How about you?”
- Either you bond over being first timers or provide or take advice from experience
- “Hello, my name is Bobby, I just flew in from Colorado for this event, are you local or did you travel?”
- This establishes location similarities on which you can expand.
- “Hi, my name is Bobby, have you seen the article about advancements in Multiple Sclerosis research?”
- This gets to the root of why you are both at the event.
Remember to give your name and get theirs in return; it is 101 but often overlooked. If you can naturally re-use their name in the conversation, go for it. It will help to create a synapse for the rest of the communication. These conversation starters do not have to be extraordinary facts or stories, it is typically the mundane that keeps people comfortable and open.
After the introduction
Notice above, the questions are simple and direct. This will allow the other person to respond and for the conversation to start taking hold. It is important to make pleasant eye contact, allow the person you are engaging to share their story.
After this initial opening, you should now be in listening mode. In this moment, it is not uncommon to start to develop responses based on what the other person is saying. This detracts from your ability to truly hear them and more deeply comprehend their message. True listening is truly an attainable “Superpower!” You can train yourself to listen with intent and deflect potentially distractive responses from forming in your mind.
By listening with intent, once the conversation takes a natural break, you will have a strong sense of what was said and can make your next conversational move. It is more important to remain engaged than to try and multitask by forming a litany of responses.
This leads me to my final thought.
Ask questions and share
I like to pivot the conversation and questions back to the person with whom I am talking. My goal is to learn more about them and why they are attending the event. This does come with a caveat, if the person is open to the conversation but quiet, you must be prepared to carry the load until they warm up or hit a topic that sparks some passion.
Reflecting on the first point, you will also be surprised at where the conversation goes once you start to learn a little bit about the person and their background.
In the beginning stages of a conversational relationship, it is a safe bet to stick to the common ground of the event. “What brings you here, What are you event goals, How long have you been fundraising, etc.?” These soft follow-up questions will lead to bigger and natural jumping off points to broader conversations.
Finally, once the conversation has reached a certain level, I allow myself to share appropriate but vulnerable information. For example: “I just spent 2 hours waiting for an Uber!” “Sorry, I may be distracted, I am waiting to hear back from my wife about a potential house we are buying.” This type of openness will put people at ease and potentially create deeper bonds in the interaction.
There is always an end to the conversation. It could be a silent and awkward pause or simply the natural time has run its course. Don’t be afraid of this moment, use this pause to reflect backward in the conversation with a compliment or rebound remark and then end with a graceful exit remark such as:
- “It has been lovely getting to know you. I hope you accomplish your conference goal of…”
- “I would love to continue this conversation and learn more about <X>, can we plan a time later in the conference to speak further?”
Being prepared for conversations, listening and reflecting, and asking questions are keys to my comfort level in making new connections. I am excited to see communities re-engaging in a personal way and ready to dust off these skills and put them to use.