20 Nov 2023

Brush up Your Introductions

It’s party season and now is the time to brush up your social skills. The ability to make smooth and courteous introductions will help ensure that parties go with a swing. If you are a host, introducing your guests to each other is a good way of launching them into the social maelstrom. If you are already in a conversational group and are joined by a friend or acquaintance, introducing them to everyone else will ensure that they feel fully embraced and are not left to loiter, unacknowledged, on the periphery. Finally, if you’re working the room and boldly approaching strangers, then you will certainly need to introduce yourself, which is a perfect icebreaker.

In days gone by, when people moved in smaller social circles, it was considered almost rude to make introductions (although at formal occasions names would be announced), as it could imply a person was an outsider if they did not already know the other guests. This is no longer the case, and it is now more polite to over-introduce than to assume people know one another.

Traditional Introductions

As the person making the introduction you should make sure you have the attention of both parties, but avoid steering them physically, for example with a hand on the shoulder. Wait for an appropriate moment and do not interrupt the conversation or force the person you wish to introduce on to the person you would like them to meet.

It was traditional to signal precedence and respect by the name that was said first (the person addressed in the introduction) and courtesy gave honour to those who were female, older or more distinguished.

Thus, men should be introduced to women: “Charlotte, may I introduce John Cavendish? John, this is Charlotte Berkeley”. In the same way, younger people are introduced to their elders or junior employees to more senior people, such as directors (“Mr Goodman, may I introduce our new research team member, Tommy Dorsey?”). Husbands and wives should be introduced separately by name (“Richard and Kate Mortimer”), not as “the Mortimers”.

If you suspect that people are likely to have met before, you may want to say: “Charlotte, I am sure you know John Cavendish?”.

You may wish then to add a short explanation or provide some information: “John is a wine expert”, or “Charles has just moved back to London from Dubai”. You might even be able to find a little nugget of common ground – “I know you are both tennis fans” – which might act as a launchpad for a conversation.

Traditionally, it was considered helpful to give both first name and last name, as it provides more information, which is the object of the exercise. In more informal situations, you might decide to dispense with surnames, and it is quite acceptable to do so.

Bear in mind that introductions should help people to decide what mode of address to use. If you know someone very well, and use a nickname, it is more helpful to introduce your friend by the name the other person may be expected to use.

Group Introductions

If you’re in a group and are approached by an individual you know, you should introduce them to the group first, and then the group to the individual. For example: “Clare, this is James, Daniel and Anna. Everyone, this is Clare. You can gesture, or nod, towards the relevant person to add clarity. Unless the occasion is formal there’s no need to mention surnames, and with long lists of names it can become too cumbersome (and forgettable).

Formal Titles

In a more formal context, you may also use titles such as “Lord” or “Professor” or you might be making introductions to an older person, who is not accustomed to the less formal manners we all use today and prefers you to use “Mr” or “Mrs”. You will have to utilise your social antennae when these occasions rise, but it is probably best to err on the side of formality – they can always, after a formal introduction, say “Please call me Jane/James”. 

The person you are introducing should not have to guess that the other is, for example, a doctor or a lord, or even someone who would rather be called “Mr” or “Mrs”. It is considerate for the person making the introduction to provide information that may avert future embarrassment.

Introducing Yourself

Introducing yourself when you do not know anyone is perfectly acceptable and is often the most practical solution in a purely social setting, especially when other people are remiss about making introductions. If you do need to introduce yourself step forward with a smile and say: “May I introduce myself? I am Emily Duckworth.” The person addressed should respond by stating their name “Oliver Liddell” Or “Hello” followed by the name. Speaking clearly is polite, as it is maddening for people to have to ask you to repeat yourself.

The Follow-up

According to formal tradition, introductions are usually followed by a handshake and the words: “How do you do?” to which the response is: “How do you do?” Never assume that “How do you do?” means “How are you?”. It is merely a greeting, not a question.

In more informal settings, and amongst younger people, it is more usual to say “Hello” or “Hi”. Handshakes may be dispensed with altogether, or a kiss (or double kiss) may be proffered. If this is the case, don’t look taken aback. Usually, your right cheek is offered first and you should briefly touch cheeks. You will need to read the body language of the person who is greeting you to establish if you are being offered a double kiss. Greeting customs are very fluid, so remain poised to comply.

When All Else Fails

If you find yourself in a social pickle, tied up in knots about precedence and seniority, don’t bow out of the introduction ritual altogether. It is better to make an introduction than not, even if you’ve transgressed one of the traditional rules of social etiquette. At least you’ll be attaching names to faces and most people will appreciate that and rise graciously above a mangled introduction.


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