Sunday, October 08, 2006

Meet and Greet

Meeting people for the first time is really difficult, particularly in forced situations (job interviews, weddings, running into your ex's new girl/boyfriend, etc). There are a few basic things that you can do to make a good first impression in any situation:

Step 1: Pretend you're happy to be where you are and meeting this person, no matter how uncomfortable, nervous or completely bored you are. You never know what kind of relationship might come out of this first conversation, so pretend that this person is capable of improving your life in innumerable ways. Along with faking happiness, it's important to fake (or if you actually have it, show) confidence. Go into the situation feeling good about yourself, because other people won't know that you're faking and they'll want to find out why you're so great. This step is mostly to psych yourself up for the actual meeting.

Step 2: You're so delighted to be meeting this person so you show it by smiling (a real smile, not a fake one), looking them in the eye and introducing yourself. The introduction is key, as it's often said that people make a decision about whether they like someone based on the first 5-10 seconds meeting them. Stick out your hand, give the other person a nice, firm handshake and tell them your name AND a relevant fact about yourself. For instance:

At a wedding: "Hi, my name is Meg and I'm the sister of the bride."

At a networking event: "Hi, my name is Meghan and I'm interested in working in finance."

At a first date with someone you met online: "Hi, my name is Meg, I hope I'm not unrecognizable from my profile picture."

You get the idea... the point is that in introducing yourself you open up a conversation without having to resort to dull comments about traffic or the weather. You also get a chance to talk about yourself and show how fascinating you are before you start asking about the other person. In non-professional situations, it's best if your opening line shows a sense of humor (self-deprication often works well), but if you don't know what to say, you can always say something more basic like the examples I just used. And if you feel awkward saying this, you can always use a generic line like "it's so nice to finally meet you." This is all situational though.

If you're introduced by someone else and they don't say something about you, talk about how you know the person introducing you, such as "Neil and I have been friends since high school. How do you know him?"

I have one major pet peeve when it comes to meeting new people and it's that people are lazy and like talking about themselves too much. Often I find that if you show that you're willing to work and ask questions about them, they sit back and forget to ask you anything. This happens most frequently in group social situations when there's enough to talk about without having to do the back and forth, "tell me about your life" thing. Don't let this happen to you! If someone is nice enough to show interest in you (or as I've said before, fake interest in you), reward them by asking about their life, even if it's just repeating many of the questions they asked.

Introducing yourself is difficult, but ending the first conversation is also tough. You never want to make someone feel like you're leaving them because you'd rather talk to someone else (even if it's true), and often using excuses like "I'm going to grab a drink at the bar" backfire when the person asks you to bring them something or decides to join you. Your best bet is using a simple "John, it was a pleasure meeting you, have a good night."

One final thing: often in situations where you're meeting people for the first time, food and drinks are involved. Make sure that one hand (preferably the one you shake with) is free so that you're not juggling things when you introduce yourself. Also, alcohol doesn't improve your ability to make a good first impression unless you're rushing a fraternity, so try not to drink too much if you care about what other people think.

Introduction do's and don'ts:

DO pretend to be excited about meeting someone
DO start off the conversation with your introduction
DO use humor and show confidence
DON'T make someone else work the whole time by asking you questions
DON'T try to eat, drink and talk at the same time

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