You need to know how to introduce yourself, in general and in networking contexts. There is a lot of advice out there about how to do it (example). The fact is, you will develop your own style over time, if you do not have one already. But many younger folks have not been required to introduce themselves in a business context, and they need some help to get started. This post provides a starting point and touches on how to use introductions in networking contexts.
Here’s my advice: Keep introductions brief. I don’t usually give my full name, just my first; I also don’t give a full elevator pitch at first. Instead, I say, “Hi, I’m Brian. I’m a teacher at Texas A&M law school in Fort Worth.” I don’t call myself “Dr. Larson” or a “professor,” though both are true, because I don’t want to seem too eager to impress folks. Usually, the other person reciprocates with a quick introduction and extends a hand to shake. (See the separate entry on shaking hands.) I shake it and ask a follow-up question. Sometimes, the other person will ask a question first. Answer the other person’s question briefly (sometimes this is a good place to use the elevator pitch) and respond with a question of your own. Often, if the other person said only briefly that he or she works at X, you can follow up with “What kind of work do you do at X?”
For some folks, “networking” is a dirty word, suggesting you have to go someplace, talk to folks you don’t like, and act like you are someone other than who you are. Really, networking is just making the acquaintance of folks who may be interested in things in which you are also interested, in the hopes that you might explore those interests together. (That can be at a job-related event, ComicCon, or a football game.)
The key is just to try to introduce yourself to a few folks, making sure you have your elevator pitch ready. Some tips for introductions at “networking” events:
- Try introducing yourself to folks who appear superficially different than yourself; it will make your life more interesting.
- Take business cards (if you have them). If a conversational exchange with someone goes beyond the elevator-pitch stage, ask for a business card and offer one. If you get a business card, follow up with an email a couple days or a week later saying, “It was nice to meet you” and reminding the card giver that you remember something from their elevator pitch. (I try to note one thing about each person on the back of their card during or after the event, so a pen is good to have along, too. Sometimes, if I want to make sure the other person remembers me for something in particular, I write that on the back of my card before giving it to the other person.)
- Don’t be too eager to “make a contact.” Ninety-five percent of the introductions you make may not develop into long-lasting contacts. But each one will make you better at doing it so that you recognize the five percent that will be productive down the road.
- A corollary of the last point: Don’t be discouraged if you introduce yourself ten times and all of them feel like failures. If only one out of twenty contacts matures into a good connection, that will be well worth nineteen ‘failures.’
- Be a connector of others. Imagine you meet a senior-looking environmental law attorney, but you are not interested in environmental law. A failure? Maybe, but say you know your classmate at the same event is interested in environmental work. Ask if you can introduce them: “My friend Teresa is very interested in environmental law. Would you mind if I brought her over and introduced you?” This is a gracious move, and if that meeting works well, you may well be remembered for it. Your ‘failure’ becomes a success for you all.
- Have fun! The best way to feel like you are not faking it is not to fake it. Try to be genuinely curious about and interested in things you don’t personally do. For example, I don’t watch NASCAR races, but if I meet someone who does, I’m likely to ask, “Have you ever been to one live?” “Is it super loud?” etc. The responses may prompt a story from the other person.
You can do ALL of this, even if you think you are an introvert. I am certainly an introvert, but I can pretend to be an extrovert for two hours before going home and crawling into a comfy ball on my easy chair. It can seem like hard work, but it pays off. If you still find it challenging after this ‘pep talk,’ you might find the advice in Heidi Brown’s The Introverted Lawyer useful.
Image: “Catholic Business Network monthly meeting” Copyright 2012 Maryland GovPics. Creative Commons CC-BY-2.0 license. https://flic.kr/p/bn4sz8