Stop. Collaborate and listen. 9 tips to make the perfect introduction

An email intro costs nothing, but can change lives. Oli Barrett, one of the UK’s most connected men and an expert at making intros, shares his top tips

“Nearly every problem has been solved by someone, somewhere. The challenge of the 21st century is to find out what works and scale it up.”
Bill Clinton Former U.S. President

Everyone seems to be talking about making things. From Downing Street to Old Street, the makers are on the march.

This is a piece about making. About making something so powerful that it can change a person’s life.

Imagine a life-changing thing which takes minutes to make and, aside from those precious minutes, costs nothing.

I’m talking about introductions.

My theory is simple.

I believe the quickest way to solve a problem is to introduce two people who can help each other.

If you subscribe to this theory, then you begin to see introductions as more important than fluffy, “nice to have” extras. They become essential.

In broad terms, I am a huge fan of making useful introductions, and I try to do it as often as possible, especially between potential collaborators.

It strikes me that not enough people make thoughtful, valuable, helpful introductions.

I’ve made a few mistakes, and there are few lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Here then are my top tips for making introductions to change someone’s life;

1. Tee it up

Some introductions can and should be made right away. Others, especially if one party is considerably busier than the other, should be suggested. You have someone that you “think” Dame Julia might like to meet, or may be able to help. Would it be appropriate to make the connection?

One sure-fire way to fall into someone’s bad books is by bombarding them with intros that they don’t want or, at that time, can’t cope with.

2. Explain how you know each person 

If you introduce a trusted friend to someone you have just met at a conference, they may well assume that they are being introduced to another trusted friend.

This can lead to embarrassment if the newcomer turns out to be more talk than action or disappoints. It’s OK to explain to each party how you know each other. If you’re friends, say so, it can build trust.

3. Do you need to be there?

Three can be a crowd, so think carefully about whether you’d like to be in a meeting between the people you’re introducing. More often than not, I encourage people to be in touch with each other, and let them get on with it. On a practical note, this saves me huge amounts of time.

4. Explain the reason or give a clue

Sometimes you might introduce people because you just have a hunch that they’ll get on. These can be incredibly powerful connections and I’d encourage you to trust your intuition on this.

If one person has asked to be connected to the other, hint at this: “I know that Ed would be grateful for a steer on potential charity partners.” Likewise, if they share particular interests, make this clear. The people receiving your note shouldn’t be left wondering why you have introduced them.

5. Give them the option of a delayed response 

Busy people will often appreciate you softening an introduction with a phrase like “I know you’re both busy”, or “I hope you’ll have time to cross paths at some point”. This takes the pressure off, and is more friendly than “you need to meet right away”.

6. Track your intros

I keep a record of all of the pairs of people I introduce, using the free (and brilliant) Intros.to. It’s a really useful exercise.

On the one hand, it helps me to look back and remember that I introduced Neeta to a potential board member in July last year, which I might ask her about.

On the other, it reinforces (to me at least), the significance of what I’m doing, and makes me take my introductions more seriously.

7. Give people options 

Successful people are often extremely time-poor, so a meeting may not be possible. You can take the pressure off by suggesting that a call might be possible, or even that one person might be able to ask the other’s advice over email. Again, you’re trying to be helpful and don’t want to wind people up.

8. Think about the value exchange

There’s nothing wrong with introducing one person to help another, however it’s always useful to have a think about what could be interesting or useful for each person. The most successful introductions result in both people saying a sincere thank you afterwards.

9. Mention triggers and use links 

Has something caused you to write today? Perhaps you’ve just seen someone at an event, or read some news. Mention this, as it will help to build momentum and let people know why you have chosen this moment. In your note, try to link to what people are doing, even if this is a LinkedIn page or an online bio.

If, as Bill Clinton said, “nearly every problem has been solved by someone, somewhere”, then progress depends on the connector.

I believe that thoughtful introductions can change lives, both in business and beyond.

At the beginning of Howards End, E.M. Forster puts it a little more succinctly;

“Only connect…”

I encourage you to become a maker of amazing introductions. There are some incredible connections out there, just waiting to be made. The missing ingredient could be a little thought, time and creativity from you.

Oli Barrett MBE is a director of Cospa and a co-founder of StartUp Britain. He has been described as “the most connected man in Britain” by Wired, and listed in GQ’s 100 Most Connected Men in Britain by GQ. 

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