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"Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect, to those that are present." -- George Washington

Every day we encounter people in a variety of business and social situations. The way we meet and greet them creates lasting impressions and paves the way for a productive encounter. Introductions project information. Besides the obvious elements of name, title, and affiliation, an introduction conveys a level of respect and reflects how the person making the introduction views the other person's status. Mastering the art of the introduction will help put you and the people you are introducing at ease. Learning the basics - and they are not very difficult - is the first step.

The most important point about introductions is to make them. Failing to do so causes embarrassment and discomfort. If given a choice, most people would prefer you to make the introduction incorrectly, even if you forgot their name, rather than stand there unacknowledged and disregarded.

A second important point in any introduction is the order of names. The name of the person being introduced is mentioned last, and the person to whom the introduction is made is mentioned first. The rules for who is introduced to whom depends on whether it's a business or a social introduction.

Business Introductions: In business, introductions are based on power and hierarchy. Simply, persons of lesser authority are introduced to persons of greater authority. Gender plays no role in business etiquette; nor does it affect the order of introductions.

For example, you would say, "Mr./Ms. Greater Authority, I would like to introduce Mr./Ms. Lesser Authority." However, the person holding the highest rank may not be Mr./Ms. Greater Authority. A client, for instance, always takes precedence over anyone in your organization, as does an elected official. Here are examples of pecking order:

1. Introduce a non-official person to an elected official.
Note: Whenever introducing anyone from the press, include that in your introduction to warn the person, especially a public official, that the conversation may be on record.

    Example: Senator Watson, allow me to introduce Dan Jennings of the San Francisco Examiner.

2. Introduce someone from your firm to a client or customer.

    Example: Mr. Dawson, this is Ms. Saunders, our Chief Financial Officer. Mr. Dawson is our client from Atlanta.

3. Introduce a junior executive to a senior executive.

    Example: Mr. Senior Executive, I'd like to introduce Mr. Junior Executive.

4. Introduce a junior military officer to a senior officer.

    Example: General Schwarzkopf, may I introduce Lieutenant Jones?

Social Introductions: According to rules of international diplomatic protocol, people are presented to royalty, chiefs of state, ministers in charge of legations, ambassadors and dignitaries of the church regardless of age or gender. The woman's or the man's name would be mentioned last and the distinguished person is mentioned first. For example, "Cardinal O'Connor, may I present Mrs. Doyle?"

But, these are the exceptions to the rule. Social etiquette is based on chivalry, so both formal and informal introductions are made according to age, then gender, and then social status. The man would be introduced to the woman in a social situation unless the man is obviously a great deal older, in which case one would defer to age over gender. For example, if both persons are of the same generation, you would say, "Mrs. Jameson, I'd like to introduce Mr. Horton." But, if the woman is considerably younger, you would say, " Mr. Horton, this is my daughter Hilary."

As you make the introduction, include a brief but meaningful piece of information about each of the people to explain their uniqueness or importance. "Sally is the PR consultant who helped me get all that coverage in the national press. Bob is the photographer whose work you admired in my office, Sally." Never qualify a description by saying "my best client" or "my dearest friend" because the automatic implication is that the other person holds a lower position in your personal hierarchy. When in doubt, be less personal rather than more personal.

The Nuances: As you say each of the individuals' names, look at him or her. In this way, you focus attention on them and make them feel important while appearing to be in control. Once a conversation has begun and everyone seems at ease, you may excuse yourself.

When introducing relatives to other people, always clarify their relationship to you; it avoids any possible faux pas that could result from inadvertent comments. Never refer to your own spouse as Mr. or Mrs. in a social introduction. Simply saying "Matt, my husband," or "Kitty, my wife" is sufficient. However, if the woman has kept her maiden name, she should include the husband's surname with some emphasis on it. This avoids the awkwardness caused when a husband is referred to by the wife's professional name. When a couple is living together but not married, introduce both by their first and last names, but do not comment on their living arrangements. It is the couple's option, not yours, to divulge that information should it be necessary.

When introducing peers to one another, mention both the first and last names. It doesn't matter who is introduced to whom. Including a tidbit of information that might start the conversational ball rolling is always a good idea. Even if everyone in a group is on a first name basis, introduce people by both first and last names. But, if you only know one person's first name, be consistent in your introductions and use their surnames, "Ms. White, Mr. Clark".

Introductions at Functions: At social events, it's not necessary to introduce a newcomer to everyone in the room. Introduce that person to the closest group by saying the newcomer's name first and then giving the names of the others. Ask the members of the group to introduce themselves if you can't remember everyone's name. Make sure from time to time, though, that the person is circulating.

At any function, the host should meet all the guests to make them feel as if their presence matters. At many business functions, guests may not know the host. It's a good idea to appoint several representatives of the corporation to stand by the door to act as greeters when guests arrive. The greeters introduce themselves and escort the guests to the host, make the introductions and then escort the guests to the bar or introduce them to several other guests while the host remains free to greet new guests.

For functions with more than fifty guests, a receiving line within the party area is preferable to insure that everyone meets the host. The receiving line remains in formation until all guests have arrived. To relieve the pressure on one host at a large social function, list several corporate officers as hosts on the invitation and have them relieve one another. All the hosts need not stand in line at once. A short receiving line moves more quickly and easily, and guests are not bogged down in a long, tedious line.

Introducing Yourself: If no-one introduces you, step in and introduce yourself. Someone may be too embarrassed to admit forgetting a name or may be distracted by other matters. Feeling slighted because you were not introduced only puts you at a disadvantage. Introduce yourself by extending your hand, smiling and saying something like, "I'm Matt Jones, David's partner." Avoid making any comment such as "Helen works for me" that might be misconstrued as arrogance or superiority. Instead, say, "Helen and I work in the same office."

As a guest, it's your duty to circulate and introduce yourself at any function, large or small, especially if the host or hostess is busy. The fact that you are both there is sufficient justification to introduce yourself to anyone at the gathering. By only sticking to those people you already know, you'll never expand your horizons or make new acquaintances.

Always use both names when introducing yourself to convey the message that you take yourself seriously as an adult and expect the same treatment from others. And, since you don't know how comfortable the other person feels with formality or lack of it, you give that person the chance to set the tone most comfortable to them.

Be clear and concise in your introduction; the fastest way to alienate a new acquaintance is to ramble on about your life history or, worse, your problems or illnesses. If you expect people to respond favorably to your introduction, leave your problems on the doorstep and make sure your tone is engaging. Then, construct an introduction that is interesting and catchy, yet still professional. Think of it as a one or two sound bite commercial. A sound bite, the length of time available in television to engage viewers' attention before they tune out, has decreased to 7 seconds currently because we are all so overexposed to visual and oral stimuli.

Try to gauge information that will be of interest to the others. At business functions, it would be appropriate to mention where you work. However, just saying "I'm in public relations at IBM" is not likely to stir a great deal of interest or conversation whereas "I try to lure investment in IBM by working on the company's annual reports," might be more interesting. Just don't focus too much attention on yourself with grandiose pronouncements.

Don't expect someone else to be forthcoming with their job information at functions that are not strictly business because many people feel that they are not defined by employment. At an organized event, such as an environmental fund raiser, you can mention your connection to the organization. Or, if you have a mutual interest, mention that as long as you phrase it to keep the focus is on the other person. For example, "Gina tells me that you are a member of the Global Business Association. I'm also involved in international trade so I'd be interested in learning how the association has benefitted you."

At any business meal, always introduce yourself to the people sitting next to you to open the way for conversation. Not introducing yourself can cost you a valuable business lead because few people want to deal with someone who comes across as aloof or unsavvy.

Responding to Introductions: The way you respond to someone else's introduction is just as important as making the introduction. In response to informal introductions, simply say "hello". Add a phrase like, "I've heard so much about you, Barry," only if it is true and if it is complimentary. Beware of phrases like, "Pleased to meet you" because that may not be true after only a few minutes of conversation.

"How do you do?" followed by the person's name is the customary response to a formal introduction. Refrain from the use of first names until the person to whom you've been introduced has indicated that the familiarity is preferred.

Rising to the Occasion: Always stand for introductions. Everyone should rise to greet newcomers at both business and social functions. The old rule that a woman remains seated when new people enter a room and are introduced is obsolete. At a very large function, only those nearest the newcomer would rise and say hello. If you are wedged into a tight position in a restaurant, there may not always be sufficient room to stand properly, but at least make the attempt so that by remaining seated you will not be perceived as aloof. In an office, always rise and come around from behind the desk to greet visitors.

Remembering Names: If you forget someone's name when making an introduction, try putting the other people at ease rather than concentrating on your own embarrassment. Remain calm; if you fall apart, the person whose name you forgot may feel obliged to put you at ease, compounding your faux pas. Be straightforward yet tactful in admitting your memory lapse. By saying, "I've forgotten your name," you imply the person wasn't worth remembering. "I've just drawn a blank," or "my memory seems to be malfunctioning" connotes a more temporary condition that doesn't have the same insulting implications. If you can't remember someone's name, but you remember an interesting point about them, cite it. You might say, "I clearly remember our conversation about Thai food, but your name seems to have temporarily slipped my mind. Please help me out."

Then, whatever happens, get off the subject of the memory lapse and onto something more interesting to everyone. Profuse apologies only make everyone uncomfortable. The sooner you forget about it, the sooner everyone else will...and the happier everyone will be.

When you're introduced to someone, say the person's name, then repeat it several times during the conversation. Not only do you project a genuine interest in someone by repeating their name, but the repetition is more likely to imprint the name on your memory. When someone seems to have forgotten your name, just jump in, hand outstretched, a smile on your face, and offer your name.

Introducing a Guest Speaker: Prior to the event, have the speaker supply background information and ask how he or she prefers to be introduced. Keep the introduction short but enthusiastic, giving the speaker's name, credibility on the subject and the title of the presentation. Then ask the audience to join you in welcoming the speaker and begin the applause. Don't alienate the audience by informing them that they'll learn something. And, don't undermine the speaker by talking so much about the topic yourself that you give part of the presentation.

Now that you have a better understanding of meeting and greeting people, heed Lord Beaverbrook's admonition, "Be fearless and each day you must meet someone new."

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