One of the trickiest parts of meeting people in social settings is making that great personal connection that will convince people that you’re genuine, interesting, capable, and someone you want to be around. If you add to this the desire for other people to want to do business with you in the future, it gets even harder. The way most people fail at this, in my perspective, is that they come of as saying “me me me me me” in their first moments of meeting a new person, and this is bound to turn the other person off.
This is every bit as much business as it is nicety. You can be kind because it’s the right thing to do, but if you’re a business person of any flavor, think about all that I’m going to share with you. Because it matters. And those people who are getting by WITHOUT being human in person aren’t going to last all that long in the longer run.
Here are some ways to think about it.
Lead by Being Inclusive
If you see me at a conference, I’ll be the guy with my hand out, shaking with someone and trying to lead them into my little circle of friends, to see if there’s someone you’ll find something in common with amongst the group I’ve gathered together. Why? Because not only do I want to welcome everyone in, but because by adding your brains and fresh eyes to the circle I’ve gathered, it means that there might be even deeper connections that YOU can take and do something with later. I never meet someone that I don’t almost immediately think about someone else they should get to know.
Yes, it’s because I’m a natural connector (Julien and I call this “Connector X” in our six main traits of Trust Agents writing), but it’s also because it’s a great way to get everyone talking at an event. Further, it’s social proof that you’re someone who cares about others. It means that somewhere in your head, you think, “Hey, Chris welcomed me in and I immediately felt like I could approach him.”
THAT’s what you’re looking for, right? You want people to feel that they can approach you in case there’s an opportunity for either side. It means that you care enough about people to invite them into the game. Should you ALWAYS do this? No, there are some exceptions where something is private, but at a conference? Find ways to be inclusive. You can steal private time later.
Make YOUR Introduction Brief, Then Ask Questions
Here’s where you can pick up ground really fast, and where we tend to fall down easiest. Say who you are, and give a firm handshake (or a hug), and make eye contact. Yes, this is SO hard if you’re shy, but if you practice, it gets easier (or it doesn’t – dispute me in the comments, and/or offer your strategies). And then, just say who you are and what you do (or what you’re passionate about, or what you seek the most at the event). Follow this almost immediately with a question that gives the spotlight to the other person (or AN other person in the circle). “How are you finding the conferece?” or “What do you do with the other hours in your day?”
Your questions are where it gets a bit tricky. If you can, come up with a few that are different than “what do you do?” Having a unique question often leads to a unique conversation. Imagine the responses to these:
- Did you ever win an award for something?
- Where’s a fun place you’ve visited before?
- How do you hope attending this event (or this meeting, or whatever) change your life?
- What’s your irrational fear? Mine is of sharks. (It helps to give them yours first before they have to answer.)
- If I gave you two million dollars, how would you spend your hours a few months from now?
In all cases, the answers might tell you something about the person. They certainly say a lot about you who’ve offered them up. And, most importantly, they give the other person a chance to talk about themselves.
What naturally happens next is that they want to know more about you. If they don’t, you’ve just learned the other person’s level of self-absorption, at least at that given moment. I sometimes get a bit overwhelmed with meeting lots of new people in a row, and sometimes at those times, I don’t do so well with this one. (We can only try.)
To Avoid: Patting Your Own Back
Even in third party form, “Wired Magazine says I might well be the next William Gibson,” it still sounds like you’re a toolbag calling yourself awesome. Don’t do it. Can I be simpler?
It’s a fine line between making sure someone knows what you’re capable of doing versus hearing your impressive credentials. How do you tell them that your blog is in the top 15 of the Cthulu Society of Charles Dexter Ward without sounding like a braggart? The best way is with a third party present. If you can’t find a way to do that, try your hardest to keep your credentials brief and simple.
Say something more like, “I’m really passionate about H.P. Lovecraft and that’s where I’ve made most of my friends online. People in that community can vouch for me.” It’s like the 3rd party credential above, but doesn’t deliver the payload of bragging.
How Third Parties Help
Another way to make this go a lot smoother is to have a social “wingman” present. Not exactly in that slimy way that guys use to try to pick up girls in bars, but similar in how it gets done. If you meet someone in a social setting with a friend there, that friend can often pay the kinds of compliments or offer the kind of advice that you can’t say about yourself directly. I LOVE talking about other people at social events to a new person.
“This is Jason Falls. Not only is he the social media side brand guy behind Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark and all these other cool brands, but he’s really breaking the mold in how to build relationships using online tools.” That lets the other person know that Jason rocks, that I endorse him, and that there are a few hooks for next steps in the conversation.
You can do this in situations where you don’t much know the newcomer in a different way.
“This is Michael, and we’ve really only just met. What I like most about him so far is that he’s quick to laugh, knows a lot about music, and seems genuinely curious about our space and how to make the best connections.” Notice that I haven’t exactly endorsed him, but I also haven’t damned him. It should give the subtle hint that I’m not really decided on him, but he doesn’t seem like an axe murderer.
A Point of Etiquette
There’s actually a proper way to introduce people in more formal settings. You’re welcome to correct me if I get this wrong, because it’s one of those “stalactite/stalagmite” things in my head.
When you introduce two people, it’s customary to introduce the lesser-known or junior person to the senior person. If I introduce my wife to the President of the United States of America, I’d say, “Honey, I want you to meet Mr. Barack Obama.” (Or that other guy with Sarah Palin.)
As a twist to this, in social settings where we’re all peers, I tend to like to introduce the newer person to the person I’ve known the longest. So, if I introduce someone to Liz Strauss, I’d say, “Dave, you’ve gotta meet my good friend, Liz Strauss. She’s a great community builder, and someone who cares about helping bloggers build businesses. When I have questions about community, Liz is who I ask.”
How This All Adds Up
if you think making connections at events isn’t a part of your business, I’m a bit worried for you. Here’s a secret I only share during speeches (but I think we can keep it between us, right?): businesses are made up of people. There, I said it.
The impression people get of you has to do with many factors, but of those, the ones you can handle the most are the ones you might consider working on for upcoming events and social opportunities. All the work you do online doesn’t add up to much if you can’t leave a good and lasting first impression in person.
So what do you think? Did I miss anything? Would you have other ideas to offer? How do you work at the avoiding the “me game?”