When introducing yourself for the first time to someone, what you say and how you say it can shape and set the tone for the relationship. How you introduce yourself makes an important impression and reflects your personal brand. You control the message, which is important as it can become the sound bite that your new acquaintance uses to introduce you to others (especially if you meet at an event or when networking).
As such, choose wisely what to communicate when meeting someone new. Your message and manner can affect a variety of business situations, including meetings with clients, vendors, internal teams or management, as well as presentations, networking events and interviews.
While seemingly brief and inconsequential, effectively introducing yourself is essential at every career level. It’s remarkable that a vast amount of professionals (including those in the C-suite) still miss the mark when meeting others and making that first impression. Here are some of the introduction mistakes we see all too often — in other words, how not to introduce yourself:
1. “Hi, I’m [Name], [Title] of [Company].”
While there’s nothing wrong with introducing yourself as name, position and employer, stopping there falls short. While you don’t need five minutes to convey who you are, adding a bit more color to your name, rank and serial number can enrich and inform your conversation. Consider the following introductions:
- Hi, I’m Jane Doe, President of ABC Corporation.
- Hi, I’m Jane Doe, President of ABC Corporation, a global B2B marketing company helping accounting, tax and audit firms.
- Hi, I’m Jane Doe. I’m a strategic marketing expert and Founder and President of ABC Corporation. (We help…)
Compared to the first one, with just a few additional words (and a few seconds to say them), the second and third versions provide a lot more information to steer follow-up dialogue.
Even if you work for a well-known organization, indicating your division, department, functional area, geographic responsibility, specialization etc. is more helpful than, “Hi, I’m Joe Smith, a Senior Vice President at Consumer Products Company.” Depending on the context, you may start with less and fill in more details in the natural flow of a conversation. By the end of the exchange, at minimum, both parties should have a topline understanding of who the other is and what they do.
(Similar to the impact of in-person introductions, your LinkedIn profile headline is a digital introduction that provides essential information about you. Read more tips on how to improve your LinkedIn profile here.)
2. Here’s what I can do for you!
An “elevator pitch” is a dated concept that makes most personal branding experts cringe. Effective networking is about building relationships, not brokering transactions. True, the connections you make may bear quid pro quo agreements, client referrals, sales etc. eventually, but using your introduction as an immediate opportunity to sell — before any attempt to get to know the person or group with whom you’re meeting — is often off-putting.
A strategic and personable introduction can lead to a solid professional relationship. Presented as a pitch, however, it may end up as your first and last conversation with someone. (It may also dissuade them from introducing you to others, so you won’t also “sell” to their contacts.)
3. Ramble on and on… and on… and on…
Develop succinct personal introductions of varying lengths and focus (like above). You don’t want to be that person who drones on without direction or doesn’t come up for air. When this happens (all too often, sadly), the person you just met likely will forget most of what you said (and hesitate to introduce you to others).
Speaking about yourself confidently and concisely isn’t an inherent trait that you either have or don’t; it’s a skill that improves with time and practice. Repeat and refine your message. Listening to how others introduce themselves (especially those whom you respect or admire) may help identify what sounds good and what you should avoid saying too.
While you don’t want to sound robotic, practice key talking points until you can speak well on them without hesitation. Remember to practice out loud as well. It’s hard to polish a complete message only mentally because of our tendency to self-edit while thinking things through versus speaking.
4. Surrender your spotlight
If you’re feeling anxious, nervous or shy — and quickly shift conversation to the other person without sharing any information beyond your name and title — you surrender the power to define yourself, relying on what they choose to ask (if they even do), instead of what you want them to know. Don’t waste this valuable opportunity to set the tone and communicate essential information about who you are!
5. Body language blunders
Just as what you say is important, how you say it matters too. Strong voice, eye contact and body language shape the delivery of your message. Start with a firm handshake and stand tall with open body language to convey confidence, engagement and sincerity. Even if you’re nervous about meeting someone, make every effort to look at the person in the eyes, not at their shoulders, past them (i.e., at another person in the room) or towards the floor. And whatever you do, keep your phone away and on silent or vibrate mode.
6. Forget your business cards
You confidently introduce yourself to a new contact, shake hands and have good conversation about what you each do professionally. When your new contact offers you her business card, you reach for yours, but – oops! – your wallet or jacket pocket is empty. Not only does this reflect poorly on you, but now the responsibility of following up falls squarely on your shoulders. Plus, your new contact can’t easily follow up with you for an invitation or opportunity. With a little planning, this mistake is easily avoidable.
Avoid using your business card as an ice breaker (i.e., when first introducing yourself). An exchange of cards should happen organically during conversation (not to kick it off) and segue into next steps, like meeting for coffee, setting up a call etc.
Think of the purpose for introducing yourself as an informative conversation starter, not a pitch (although there is a time/place for transactional networking). How you briefly describe yourself professionally reflects your personal brand and impacts first impressions you make across business situations. Strengthen this impression (and avoid introduction mistakes) by practicing out loud, including variations of length and focus, so you can speak about yourself confidently and concisely in any context.