As part of my work, live event reporting
, I spend an inordinate amount of time at conferences and trade shows. During the short time the conference hours are live, I'm playing a nonstop game of business introduction round-robin, introducing myself to keynote presenters, panelists, and random people roaming the show floor.
In the almost six years of running my business, Spark Media Solutions, I've learned how to make that business introduction quickly and often. I'm not always successful, but I do have a very good hit/miss ratio.
Here are the most successful techniques I use, plus others that have been recommended to me. I've also included a few techniques people think are good ways to introduce yourself, but really aren't. When you're done reading, please add your favorite and least favorite business pickup lines in the comments below.
Best business pickup lines
Approach a small group (two to five people) in conversation and ask, "What am I interrupting?" This is one of my favorite techniques, and it almost always works. You're acknowledging that you're interrupting, you're being jovial about it, and, most important, you're not derailing the conversation. That single line brings you into the conversation, whatever it is. As soon as they tell you what you're interrupting, it's your chance to respond and add to the conversation. Ta-dah! You're in.
Read the name on a person's badge. I'm amazed that almost no one does this. At a trade show we're all wearing our names around our necks, in essence introducing ourselves to everyone. Yet when we meet people at a trade show we feel the need to introduce ourselves and ask whom we're speaking with. It's a perfectly natural reaction, as that's how we handle ourselves in normal business networking interactions.
People are always shocked when the first word out of my mouth is their name. Everyone stops, because it's their name; naturally, you respond when someone calls out your name. They sometimes think we actually know each other. I often have to remind them that they're wearing their name around their neck.
I then say my name and explain why I'm stopping them. After you say their name you can tag on any of these other business pickup lines.
"May I join you?" This is usually done best during a conference luncheon where seating is open. I don't know of another good time to pull this line. No one ever says no to this line. It's really important to say something as you sit down, because if you don't it becomes really awkward to introduce yourself afterward.
"I'm stopping seemingly intelligent people…" This is just a goofy line I use when I really need to stop anyone on the floor to participate in an interview, a photo opportunity, or something else that's really quick. People are usually amused at the line and often respond with a self-deprecating comment such as, "Oh, you got the wrong guy." I can usually play off that and say, "Oh well, you'll do anyway."
"I'm working on a fun project, and I was hoping I could rope you in." Similar to the line above, you're using light humor to ease the introduction. You're being up front about what you want to do, and they're playing along.
The line above and this one require you to actually follow up with something. Often it can be just as simple as, "I'm writing an article/taking a survey and trying to find out what people think about ________." Fill in the blank with a hot topic at the conference or an issue that qualifies prospects for your company.
Acknowledge something about them. If you can't see the name on their badge, or they're not wearing one, another way to personally recognize someone is to acknowledge something about them. For example, "That's a snazzy purse," "Love that jacket," or if they're wandering aimlessly you could say, "Are you that bored?"
You can be slightly deprecating, as in the last example, but in general you should flatter. I once took the opposite tack: I saw a guy at a trade show dressed in shorts, a T-shirt, and flip-flops, and I said to him, "Thanks for dressing up for the show." I was trying to be silly about it, as I thought he was, given his dress, but the line had the completely opposite effect. The guy couldn't believe what I said and looked at me like I was the biggest jerk on the planet. I had to smile and back-pedal, but I essentially blew it.
"What brings you to the event today?" Everyone comes to a networking event with some objective. Even if it's not clearly defined, most people can usually answer this question. The response is usually, "I'm looking to learn more about _____," or, "I'm hoping to meet ______." Whatever the answer, you can now qualify or unqualify a person as a useful asset or prospect, plus you now have a point of conversation that's of interest to that person.
Worst business pickup lines
Being too helpful too early. I've had this happen to me multiple times, and it's often by people who are professional networkers, e.g., they might own a networking group. Immediately after introducing myself, saying what I do for a living, I'll get the line, "How can I help you?"
When someone asks that question it's a huge jump in the relationship, because it means they're offering to do something for you. Say it too early, and it comes off disingenuous. All they want out of the engagement is to make you think that they're the nicest person in the world because they asked the question. Unless it's a simple, "Can you introduce me to that person over there?" they have no plans to do anything to help you out.
In all the years I've heard, "How can I help you?" out of the gate, those asking it have never helped me. It's bogus. Avoid it, and avoid the person who asks the question way too early.
Presenting your business card too early. I was just at a conference at which a guy had barely introduced himself and immediately started handing out his business card to everyone involved in our small conversation. It was such an off-putting move. What does he expect people to do with that card? He made a horrible first impression. Does he expect us to actually follow up with him? I know he's not going to follow up with me. (See Nos. 12 and 13 in "16 Annoying Communications That Must End in 2011.")
There are some situations in which presenting your business card early is appropriate, such as sitting down for a business meeting. In that case it is appropriate for everyone to first pull out their business cards and pass them around. But in most situations, you should establish a rapport before you start distributing your card.
Conclusion: Often just introducing yourself is the best pickup line
Though some of my lines are a little goofy and I have very specific objectives, often the best technique is looking someone in the eye, saying your name, and extending your hand for an introduction.
These are just a few techniques I've used, but I'm eagerly looking for others. Please add your most successful and least successful business pickup lines and techniques in the comments section.
David Spark (@dspark) is the founder of Spark Media Solutions, a brand journalism firm. The original version of this article appeared on his blog, Spark Minute.