Ace your introductions with stories and sincerity

by Halina St James

A trip to France for a friend’s wedding was a great chance to eat, drink, make merry – and reflect on the sometimes-difficult communications issue of making introductions.

Some people, a lucky few from my observations, are able to strike up an immediate and easy relationship with complete strangers. Others struggle to figure out what to say and how to say it effectively when entering a new social circle.

The wedding gave me a chance to watch successful introductions made in both group and one-to-one settings. Let’s start with the group introductions. On the eve of the wedding, while most of the men took themselves off to a jazz festival in a neighbouring town, the women chose to have a wonderful dinner in the garden of a restaurant close to the bride’s home.

After everyone had ordered, the bride suggested we introduce ourselves, since we were an international bunch and most were meeting for the first time. It could have been a quick and predictable run round the table getting names and countries that we would have forgotten before the food arrived.

Instead, something wonderful happened. Without prompting, everyone launched into a story of how they met the bride. The stories cemented our new relationships in a way that basic facts and figures never could. We remembered the stories – and the names of the storytellers.

Stories are powerful tools for communicators. Stories help form lasting relationships personally and professionally. They make concepts and facts concrete and memorable. They can be told anywhere, anytime. They don’t have to be long. Just make sure they are relevant and make a point.

As we always tell people in our presentation skills and media skills workshops, facts tell – but stories sell.

The other great example of how to make effective introductions came in a one-on-one setting. Guests at the wedding were from France, Italy, Canada, the US, the UK and a few other places as well. In the run-up to the ceremony there were a few events to help turn strangers into friends. There was the usual spread of meet-and-greet styles – from confident and outgoing via reserved and formal to diffident and shy.

Ruggero delights the bride with his ice-breaking shirt
Ruggero delights the bride with his ice-breaking shirt

But the prize for most effectively breaking the ice has to go to Ruggero, from Sicily.

Like everyone, he smiled and shook your hand. But Ruggero seemed to look into your eyes a little deeper; he held your hand a beat longer. He spoke clearly. He repeated his first name, saying it was an unusual Italian name that people often mistook for Roger.

Most importantly of all, he exuded a sincere interest in his new acquaintances. A lot of people can work a room in a mechanical way. To do it in a way that really connects with people demands a lot more effort.

Ruggero had a prop to help him open conversations. He would open his jacket to reveal a monogram of the bride and groom’s names and date of their wedding on his shirt. It was a great ice breaker. The bride and groom loved it. We all loved it. In fact we all loved Ruggero.

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