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Making Introductions That Last

Tips for getting your networking contacts to remember you

Q: What are some of the things I need to consider to improve my personal introduction to people at networking meetings?

A: Your primary goal in networking is to increase the amount of business you get. To do this, you must make meaningful contact with other business professionals who can use your services, refer someone else who can use your services, or both. One of the fundamental elements of this process is making effective introductions. The ideal introduction is brief and memorable--one that provides enough impact to arouse the interest of those to whom you're introducing yourself and get them to join your word-of-mouth team.

Think of networking as a relay race. Your personal introduction serves the same purpose as passing the baton from one runner to the next. Because you have to reach out and pass the baton to the next runner, and he or she in turn has to reach back and receive it, the baton pass is a cooperative effort.

When planning your personal introduction, your goal is to deliver information another person or group would be interested in hearing about, and recognize that they may be interested in giving you some information about themselves to pass to another runner.

The baton exchange takes place in an instant; there's no time or chance for a second attempt. If the baton is not placed in the open hand of the next runner, it will fall to the ground. Personal introductions can suffer the same fate. A poorly planned personal introduction can fall on deaf ears. It won't be passed on.

Whether you're introducing yourself to an individual or a group, you have a choice of how you deliver your message. The primary vehicle for your introduction is your verbal presentation.

Does your introduction work? People will judge not only the message, but also the messenger. How you look, carry yourself and listen will affect what others do with the message you've delivered. As you network, your underlying hope is that people will use your products or services and pass your message on to others who will also use your products or services.

When participating (even as a guest) in various business organizations, you may be asked to introduce yourself. Preparing a script for this process will improve your results. One of your scripts should be an overview of what you do. Other presentations can address various aspects of your product or service. Here is a recommended sequence for your brief introduction:

  • Your name
  • Your business or profession
  • A brief description of your business or profession
  • A memory hook that includes quick, ear-catching phrases
  • A benefit statement of one particular product or service you offer--what you do that helps others

Your name and your business profession are easy enough. A brief description, a memory hook and a benefit statement can be separate items, but more often they are intertwined in your message. For example, it's easy to combine your business along with the benefits of your product or service. I suggest you tell people what you do as well as what you are: "I'm a financial planner, and I help people plan for their future," or "I'm an advertising and marketing consultant, and I help companies get the most out of their advertising dollar." These explanations are more effective than saying, "I do financial planning," or "I plan advertising campaigns."

In many situations, you'll be introducing yourself to only one or two people at a time. Some networking organizations have all the members stand at each meeting, and in round-robin fashion, give a one-minute overview to the entire group. If you're a member of a group like this, it's vitally important to vary your presentations.

Many people who are in business groups that meet every week have a tendency to say the same old thing time after time. From what I've seen, many weekly presentations are done weakly. If you don't give some thought to varying your introduction, many people will tune you out when you speak, because they've already heard your message several times. Your best bet is to give a brief overview, then concentrate on just one element of your business for the remaining part of your presentation.

By breaking your product or service down to its most basic form, or lowest common denominator, you will be able to effectively describe to other people the type of work you do. In other words, talk about:

  • A specific product or service
  • A selected target market
  • Unique benefits to a particular group
  • Your qualifications as a professional in your industry

Handouts or, if applicable, samples that you can show and discuss will help you make a strong impression. The more things people can see, hear, feel and touch, the more likely they are to remember your message. The more they remember, the more likely they are to refer you.

As you make presentations, always consider the needs of your audience and limit your discussion primarily to those areas. If you're giving a short presentation to a large group, focus on the part of your business you think will benefit most of the group. If you're talking to only one or two people, find out as much as you can about them.

If you take the time to develop good presentations, people will take notice. If you don't, you are losing a great opportunity to someone else who will.

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Ivan Misner is founder and chairman of BNI, a professional business networking organization headquartered in Upland, Calif. He is co-author, with Hazel Walker and Frank De Raffele, of Business Networking and Sex: Not What You Think (Entrepreneur Press, 2012).
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