I wish I loved the Human Race;
I wish I loved its silly face:
I wish I liked the way it walks;
I wish I liked the way it talks:
And when I'm introduced to one
I wish I thought What Jolly Fun!
—Sir Walter Raleigh, "Wishes of an Elderly Man Wished at a Garden Party, June 1914"
In making business introductions, the oldest or most senior person is addressed first. Despite Sir Raleigh, think of it as an important courtesy not to let him or her stand there without knowing to whom he is speaking.
"Mr. L, I'd like you to meet our new Manager of Client and Media Relations, Olivia Burtis." Then offer something of interest as a conversation starter to the senior person, such as "Mr. L, Olivia went to Stanford, too." Or "Mr. L, Olivia has just received her MBA from UCLA's Anderson School." Or give the junior person an opening to make conversation with your client by suggesting, "Olivia, Mr. L plans for us to coach his clients all over the world. You can use your Italian."
When you are in a social setting or you are coupled, a woman is always addressed first. Guests, unless they are elderly or dignitaries, are presented to a host or hostess as well as to the guest of honor. Designations such as Doctor (M.D. or Ph.D.), Lieutenant, General, Mayor, Governor, Judge, Pastor, or Reverend should be included unless you know that the individual prefers that it not be. In a self-introduction, give your first name (the way you wish to be addressed) and last name, deleting the titles.
Meeting someone for the first time, look for commonalities with which to relate. The situation, location, weather, or even traffic may be a good conversation starter. Other commonalities may include geography, alma maters, and hobbies.
If meeting and greeting is new to you, practice, practice, practice meeting people and making friends. Increasingly, networking is used for prospecting for new clients, establishing a presence in your industry, and getting the word out about a new or improved product or service. It is probably the most cost-effective marketing tool a company can employ. Both personally and professionally, it's often not what you know but who that makes all the difference.
As a host or hostess, it's your job to introduce people to each other, preferably with some clue to a common interest that they will find interesting to talk about. Sometimes, just introducing each one with a title or area of expertise gives them a starting point. When I host a party, I will often put someone else's name on the back of a name tag and a two or three word identifier (avid golfer) so people will be seeking each other out.
In introducing one person or a guest of honor to many, as long as everyone is acknowledged, all of the names are less important (it's why you have name tags) than what brings you all together.
In introducing a speaker, look for the unique and different but applicable things in a speaker's background that will intrigue an audience. If you are the speaker, give your host some ammunition to make your audience look forward to what you have to say. Begin with, "It's a little known fact that...." And even after you've been introduced as a speaker, drop a few names or experiences into your conversation or speech to keep the audience interested. Chances are the audience wasn't paying much attention until you grabbed their attention and made sure they were listening to WII-FM, all together now, "What's In It For Me?"
At a no-host event, not only do you have to pay for your own wine but you're on your own when it comes to introductions, too. Being well-informed on current events, movies, museum exhibits, and sporting events provides good conversation starters. Another technique is to encourage others to talk about themselves and be good listeners. That involves asking thoughtful follow-up questions until you really understand. One of Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Successful People is to understand before you seek to be understood.
Exiting a conversation is a matter of simply asking to be excused. Asking for a card if you would like to stay in touch is a gracious way to bring a conversation to a close. On a plane, when you may be a captive audience for several hours, it is perfectly acceptable to bury your nose in a book after acknowledging your seat mate, but you may be missing a lot.
In polite conversation, it is appropriate to mention the person's first name at the end of the conversation, particularly by phone. Since his name is probably his favorite or at least the most familiar word in all the world to him, make it part of your signoff or a gracious goodbye.