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How to Avoid Socially Awkward Introductions

MIAMI —  “The other night I was at a wine bar with a friend when I ran into someone from my MBA program who I hadn’t seen in years,” commented Stephen, as he attempted to put his thoughts into context. “I introduced her to my friend, ‘Kevin, this is Laura, she was in my MBA program.’ To which she replied as she shook Kevin’s hand, ‘Laura Goodwyn, Vice President and Commercial Loan Officer at XYZ Bank.’ We were both left speechless.”

Stephen went on to say that when Laura was out of earshot, they chuckled with Kevin, saying, “Boy, she’s socially awkward.” From my vantage point Laura is well educated, socially awkward and poorly trained in the Art of the Personal Introduction.   

Not only did she learn nothing about Stephen, who she hadn’t seen in 10 years, or his friend Kevin, she became the brunt of their jokes. That said, Stephen’s follow-up question to me was telling: “What is the best way to maximize the value of a personal introduction?”

Laura is not the only person poorly trained in this art. The financial services industry loves titles and teaches advisors to brag by using titles: Senior Vice President, Executive Vice President, Managing Director and so on, when getting introduced or introducing oneself. From a firm’s perspective, this promotes the company because the title (Senior VP) is usually followed by the firm (XYZ Bank).  But the affluent aren’t impressed. It’s more like, who cares?  

How do you make a personal introduction impactful? Simple. Invert your focus.  Huh? That’s right, instead of focusing on yourself, whether it’s the “title brag” or the disingenuous value proposition where you attempt to explain who you are and what you bring to the table in 30 seconds (who cares?), you redirect the focus to the most important person of the moment—the one to whom you’re being introduced.

The following are 3 Steps to Mastering the Personal Introduction. There’s more to it than simply reading through these stepspractice is required for mastery!

  1. Personal Presence/Gravitas—It’s always helpful to place ourselves in the shoes of the affluent prospect. What’s important to them? What factors impact their first impression? Our research highlights two factors, personal presence and people skills. 

​Think about this for a moment: it’s a blend of non-verbal and verbal communication. Presence is essentially one’s gravitas, how a person carries him or herself in the company of others. This is all-inclusive: your attire, posture, eye contact, handshake, personal hygiene, essentially all aspects of one’s body language. 

People skills run the conversational gamut: personal space (nobody likes a close talker), manners (nobody likes people who interrupt, talk with their mouth full, etc.), verbiage (today’s affluent are turned off by ‘title bragging’ and other forms of self-aggrandizement) and listening (nobody likes a person who talks too much).   

So before you concern yourself with the much hyped and overrated value proposition, pay attention to your gravitas and people skills. This is a common blind spot, however, a spouse or significant other can be a good judge and coach. The key is getting honest feedback and then creating a signal to indicate when you’re breaking bad (talking too much, etc.). Regardless of your gravitas, good or bad, you’re still going to be introduced. One would think this is relatively straightforward, but it often creates anxiety, especially when being introduced to Mr. or Ms. Big. Psychologists refer to this anxiety as social self-consciousness, a tendency to feel intimidated by people perceived as wealthier, more powerful or more educated. 

However, the solution is fairly simple. Make a good first impression by mastering your personal presence, and when shaking hands, have a healthy grip, make good eye contact, and simply say, "Matt Oechsli, nice to see you." And momentarily shut up!

  1. Re-direct—Here is where you can take control of the moment. Your objective is to get this person talking about themself. This requires a good pause following step one, and then asking a well-framed question. These questions will vary depending upon the circumstance. If a client is introducing you to a colleague, it’s natural for you to have a bit of background to help frame your questions. If you’re introduced to someone completely cold, your question will be focused on the individual or event: "So, how do you two know each other?" Or "How did you get involved with this event?"

The secret is getting Mr./Ms. Big to talk about their favorite subject: themselves. This is the golden rule for developing rapport. As they begin talking about themselves, your job is to listen and uncover information that will help you connect and, if the stars are aligned, romance them over time into becoming a client.

  1. Social follow-up—The idea is to breeze through the first couple of steps, determine whether or not this person meets your qualifications, and if yes, it’s time to begin developing a relationship. Of course, it’s nearly impossible to develop much of a relationship on a first encounter, but you can suggest some form of a social follow-up. The nature of the follow-up will depend on what you learned by listening, or if introduced by a client, what you already know this individual enjoys doing socially.

This is an art. Timing, when to circle back and suggest a social activity, how to be concise, conversational and confident in the moment, and how to really listen are sales skills that can be learned. 

Practice the art of being introduced and you’ll avoid any future socially awkward introductions. Whether it’s to your daughter’s violin teacher, your new neighbor or Ms. Big, you’ll be prepared to make a great first impression. 

Matt Oechsli is author of Building a Successful 21st Century Financial Practice: Attracting, Servicing & Retaining Affluent

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