April 22, 2015

The Power of an Introduction

This year has had no shortage of new hellos.

I’ve done it all: cold emails, requested introductions, brokered new friendships, and been on the receiving end of serious professional generosity. And with each small act of connection, I’ve relearned the importance of a powerful, and personal, introduction.

I'm reminded of an experience from a few years ago. A close friend made a quick, generic introduction to somebody whose advice I was seeking. The intro was, well, flat and bland. Nothing like our robust friendship. Unsurprisingly, the only reply I heard back was the sound of crickets…and my own disappointment.

A year and a half later, another mutual friend invited me and that same person–the one who I'd hoped to meet via email–to drinks. This time, the connection was immediate. Now when we’re in the same city, we make time to grab a meal and catch up.

I don’t want to blame the flat email for our delayed personal and professional friendship. Inboxes are constantly in triage mode. People are obnoxiously busy. But every so often, I reflect on how hasty introductions like that first one not only make me feel (okay, so my ego might have been bruised) but how they can actually hinder a relationship from developing at all despite good intentions.

This experience reignited my commitment to making thoughtful introductions. And this year, I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of many. Recently, I actually received separate thank you notes and follow ups about the way I introduced two people. These routine emails had impact. I learned that the information shared and tone of an intro can fuel richer conversation, spark subsequent collaboration, and help independent relationships form more quickly. These connections worked because both parties felt like people to each other. And that’s what mattered.

As someone who loves to host dinner parties, my approach to digitally connecting people is not dissimilar. While writing this, I read a great piece that echoed the sentiment of using a hosting mindset online:

“The better we become at introductions, the better we become at seeing hidden connections between people who could hit it off….When making email introductions, you are the host. People deserve the same amount of hospitality you would give your dinner guests.”

These introductory emails come naturally to me now. It’s an honor to celebrate and connect two people who might find mutual benefit. When I look back at past emails, I notice that I’m subconsciously answering certain questions. Why must these people meet? Why do I think these people rock? Why might somebody else? How will these people find mutual benefit… and more importantly, mutual connection?

Here’s a quick cheat sheet of questions to ask yourself as you are crafting thoughtful introductions:

  • What is this purpose of the introduction? (Most people usually stop here.)
  • What are meaningful, or mutual, affiliations? (...or they stop here.)
  • In what context are you connected to each person?
  • What’s a conversation you’d think these people would love to have?
  • What information would connect them on a personal level? (shared hobby, passion, etc)
  • What’s a milestone, brag, or recent highlight of their personal or professional life? (a new baby, a promotion, a published article...)
  • What makes this person special to you personally?
  • What unique skills, superpowers, traits, or dispositions does each person have?

There’s much more to say on this topic whether it’s being confident in your introductions, choosing the right approach to making connections, or asking for an intro. But at the heart of it lies a simple message:

Play the host. Honor your introductions. Make the world a bit more human in the process.

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