I’m sure at one time or another most of us have experienced one of my most dreaded of social faux pas’ – that of the botched introduction.
You know the one. You’re at an event with someone whom you’ve known for years (or worse a relative or significant other), and suddenly you blank on their name just as you have to make introductions. For me, this is usually followed by a momentary anxiety attack that leaves me wondering if I have finally lost my marbles.
The awkward, (usually silent) seconds tick by, forgetfulness tightens its squeeze and my mind is rendered completely blank. I’m not even sure of my own name at that point.
Then there’s the opposite side of that coin – that of being incorrectly introduced. If I had a dollar for every time someone called me Linda or Liz or pronounced my last name with a hard “k” instead of “ich,” I’d be shopping at Neimans a lot more often than Target.
Because I can be forgetful, distracted, tired, rushed (or all of the above simultaneously), during events or other social settings, I’ve begun to employ some helpful tactics on making memorable introductions.
One proactive strategy I pull out of my hat when forgetting the name of the person I am introducing to another is to ask the person whose name I can’t recall, “Oh, do you know Jane Smith?” which usually works beautifully as it typically obliges Jane to take over and the two make their own introductions, also instantly reminding me of the forgotten name.
This works just about every time, but be prepared when the person who’s name you’ve forgotten simply says “Nice to meet you Jane” and doesn’t offer their name in return. In this case, I usually move the conversation in a direction like “I know Jane from such-and-such organization” – to get a conversation started. Typically, once the chit chat begins, eventually Jane will say “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.” At this point I give a big sigh of relief and make a mental note of the person’s forgotten name for future reference.
Taking notes never hurts me either – I keep a little pad in my purse at all times. This is especially helpful when I have to pen a thank you note to a host whom I’ve only met once, or want to remember someone for business networking.
A good way of remembering a person’s name you’ve just been introduced to is to repeat it back. This one works for me just about every time because I tend to be an auditory learner. By hearing myself repeat a person’s name, I am better able to put the name with a face in the future.
Back to the awkward moment when you may wish to correct someone after being incorrectly introduced. It’s best to kindly correct the error right away.
This happened to me recently when I was introduced as a columnist for the Daily Pilot. I took the opportunity to make light of the situation, gently indicating that I actually write for the Indy, but if the Pilot would have me, I’d be happy to syndicate! We all laughed and the moment gave me the opportunity to whip out my business cards to exchange with the group to whom I was introduced. Win-win.
What about handshakes during introductions? My grandfather taught me this rule as a kid after I reached out and shook the hand of his golf partner like a surfer dude greeting his beach bro. Big mistake. My Gramps took the opportunity to teach me a life lesson I haven’t forgotten: adults offer their hands to children first; generally, a woman offers her hand first; an older person initiates a handshake with a younger one; and the more important person, or the person to whom one is being introduced, is the first to offer his or her hand. Imagine meeting the POTUS for example, one would undoubtedly wait for him to initiate the handshake.
In our typically casual manner, Americans forget or do not know that introductions in other countries can make or break how one is perceived, welcomed and respected (or not). It’s no small matter, so I try to do my homework if I know that I am going to be in a cultural or travel setting that makes certain protocol a must.
And finally, in my opinion, when it comes to introductions, the one that tops my list is a man who stands when a woman comes into a room for the first time, and even better remains standing until she is seated after a greeting or being introduced.
Call me old fashioned but it’s hard to forget someone’s name that makes the small but significant gesture of politeness and good manners. It can make all the difference between mediocore and memorable introductions.
Columnist and Newport Beach Arts Commissioner Lynn Selich resides in Newport Beach. Reach her at [email protected]