There are few moments that make you lose your faith in humanity more than a board of trade networking lunch. The rubber chicken entree is bad. The cornball speaker (“And now, put your hands together for The Power of You author…”) is worse. But the absolute pinnacle of awfulness is that 5 minute break after coffee where the host jubilantly announces “It’s time to network!” and all the attendees jump up and proceed to spray one another with their business cards like a ticker-tape parade.

That mutant social interaction, my friends, mirrors how most of us introduce ourselves on LinkedIn. Myself included.

I felt I needed to write a piece to draw our collective attention to this chronic condition. What inspired me was a client who tasked me with launching a lead gen campaign. One of my jobs was writing a few personalized intro’s to prospects on LinkedIn. The team would then adopt my style and scale up the intro-writing.

My initial strategy was to send out self-congratulatory You should know me! intro’s. You’ve all seen them – usually inflicted on you by app developers from India.

Hello. We are expert in developing all manner of award-winning highly effective apps for promotion of your business. We are $ inexpensive and highly qualified. Can we set up call now?

You hate getting them. But be honest, you’ve sent intro’s espousing your awesomeness, haven’t you?

Long story short, my response rate was zero.

Next, I tried to be coy. I used intrigue, thinking I’d get them to ask more more more by telling them less less less.

Hello. I think we should connect because I think we can help one another, trade insights, and maybe collaborate. I’ll let you know more about what I do when we connect.

Just plain creepy. Again, zero response.

Finally, I consultedĀ  Joe Girard, the kingpin of plain sales talk and hater of sales-y weirdos (he coined the phrase – I can’t take credit). Joe told me to write intro’s as if I were introducing myself at a cocktail party to people I actually gave a damn about.

Here’s a bit of an intro to, well, the Intro.

LESSON 1: It isn’t easy

Each intro takes me about 20 minutes to write. A far cry from simply going through a list of prospects and hitting ‘Connect’ on anyone who has VP in front of their name.

I start by combing through the prospect’s profile. I look for jobs they’ve had / projects they’ve worked on that correlate with an area of my expertise.

Next, I check out their company on Linkedin. Number of employees, earnings, areas of specialization.

Next, I type their company name and ‘news’ into google. If the company has done anything remarkable, or experienced controversy, I find out.

Finally, I sit and think. How can I approach them and offer up something that will be of value to them in a short paragraph? It may be asking a question about how they handled a situation, and offering a connection to a story that may help. It may be asking their advice on an issue I’m experiencing in exchange for a thought on something I surmise may be going on in their job. Humility and authenticity are key. Smarmy humble-bragging or superficial questions are painfully obvious.

lesson 2: You aren’t getting a sale

I believe most of us write horrible LinkedIn intro’s because we hope these intro’s will get us a sale. If that’s what you’re thinking, even a little, you fail. Because when that sentiment creeps into your intro – even subliminally – it makes your words smell like week-old fish on the counter.

I have a reframe that helps. Instead of thinking sale, think conversation. Your goal is to get a real, live conversation. One where both you and your conversation partner come out a bit smarter and happier.

Here’s where the Cocktail Intro really comes into play. Think hard about some of the coolest people you’ve ever met at cocktail parties. Generally, the conversation never turns to selfish interests – it remains an exchange of ideas where both parties come out with a few great a-ha’s.

LESSON 3: AVOID formulas

In researching this story, I went online and checked out a few how-to’s on the subject. Invariably, every writer broke it down into a formula: how to intro yourself to a co-worker / client / recruiter / ex-colleague / prospect.

All good, except they’re formulas, and they ring hollow.

Far betterĀ  to imagine walking up to that prospect at a cocktail party. Try to connect with the genuine intent of giving them something of value, maybe learning something. And hey, if they want to know more about what you do, bonus.

LESSON 4: OTHER LESSONS?

I am by no means an expert on this subject. Rather, I’m on a very steep learning curve. My goal is to help you avoid some of the bumps I’ve encountered along the way.

Now, your turn to return the favour. Send me your tips that boosted your intro-writing success rate on LinkedIn. I’ll keep modifying this story to include your tips, and let you know when your tip is added, so you can send it along to your network.

And heck, it’ll make a great intro between us.

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