Dealing with being introduced to a large group at once
April 23, 2011 3:17 PM   Subscribe

How do I more gracefully join a large group of people when I only know a couple of them? How do I make my friends comfortable in the opposite situation?

Recently I joined a friend at a bar. She was at a table with seven or so other people, none of whom I knew. As soon as I showed up, she introduced me to all seven at once. I felt like my head was spinning. I was just thinking about how I wanted to ditch my heavy coat and backpack and get a drink and sit down. There's no way I could remember all of those names. I felt totally flummoxed and then just anxious/off for the rest of the evening. I doubt I made the best first impression.

This situation has happened multiple times, and honestly I've probably instigated it myself as well, introducing new arrivals to more people than they could handle too soon. How can I recover quickly when I find myself introduced to a mass at once? How can I avoid putting my friends in that situation, while still introducing them? I'd like your suggestions and tricks.
posted by rwatson to Human Relations (14 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
When I meet a bunch of folks at the same time, I find that "I'm sorry, your name again?" works throughout the event, about once or twice per person. For bonus polite, I make sure to volunteer my name as well when I do this.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:27 PM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Introductions are awkward and perfunctory; don't worry if you can't remember anybody's name. How often does it come up in conversation anyway? Just wait for someone else to say it, or if you have to, you can ask again later -- nobody takes offense. Just join in the conversation -- spend more time listening than talking, weigh in if you have something to say. Unless their snobs or totally insular pratts (which it doesn't sound like, otherwise they wouldn't invite you to sit down), people out drinking are usually in a convivial mood and open to meeting outsiders. Hell, sometimes I'll just go up to a group and start talking to them even if i don't know ANY of them. You just gotta get out there and practice, and remember, the stakes are low! You have nothing to lose.
posted by Afroblanco at 3:28 PM on April 23, 2011

I go to a lot of meetups, and one of the things that often happens with rounds of introductions is that people make a joke about "And there'll be a test later!" It takes some of the pressure off, because it makes it clear that we all realize that no one is going to remember a whole round of names that were provided to them while they still had their coats on. Then the new person is free to re-introduce himself to people s/he meets more personally as the meetup goes on.

But part of being on the receiving end of the mass introduction is just to let yourself off the hook a little. "I know Jane introduced everyone earlier, but it was a rush of names. I'm Rwatson!" gives people a chance to re-introduce themselves to you on a more personal level.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:30 PM on April 23, 2011

"I'm horrible with names, what's your name again? I might ask you, like, three more times"
I say it all the time (and it's true), and no one cares in the slightest.
posted by Neekee at 3:31 PM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

As the your second question, how to introduce someone around without making their head spin, a technique I've used is to greet the newcomer, help them get settled and get a drink, and then start the introductions, working in small groups.

"Good to see you Watson, set down your bag, let's get you a drink, and I'll introduce you to everyone." Works great at parties you're hosting, but it also works in bars and such, as long as you're not too swizzled.

When doing introductions, if you're feeling especially gracious, doing it in small bursts helps. "This is A, and B - I know them from X, and this is Watson, who I know from teh intarwebs." [brief conversation] "Oh, and Watson, I'd like you to meet C, D, and E - they've got some weird love-triangle thing going on, but will deny it if you ask them..." etc.
posted by DaveP at 3:55 PM on April 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

Just admit you don't remember the litany of names and people won't mind helping you out. Establish a bit of a rapport, like two or three back-and-forth comments, and then say, "I'm sorry, the introductions earlier were a little rushed and I don't remember your name. I'm rwatson." You can repeat this once or twice with every person that night, and perhaps once more if you run into them later at a different social situation. You absolutely don't need to know the name of everybody who's there, just the ones you're talking to.

The only way it's going to get awkward is if you forget their name, see them repeatedly in the future, and never ask them what their name really is. Or if you get into a long, intense conversation with one person and you never ask them.

There's not really much of a way around putting your friends into that situation when you introduce them to a large group, but it's helpful for me to hear some kind of tidbit about the person -- that way, if I don't remember their names, I at least have a conversation starter and I can, if necessary, pull out proof of "no really I was listening, I'm just bad at names." So I like to hear introductions like, "This is Annie, who's in that sociology class with me, and her boyfriend Jim." It's also nice to have the one person I know incorporate me into conversations by referring to the other person by name, like "Matt loves Dr. Who too, and Sarah down there in the blue shirt can't wait for the new season either!"
posted by lilac girl at 3:59 PM on April 23, 2011

Something that helps with the flummoxed feeling is to take a few deep calming breaths before entering the bar or restaurant and try to get a smile ready. Then proceed as above. It's totally okay to admit that you didn't catch someone's name.
posted by cabingirl at 4:10 PM on April 23, 2011

you're not going to use those names within the next hour or so. Even if you're talking with all of them, you'll all be saying "you" and "what about him?" etc etc. And if someone barrages you with "hey rwatson, this A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H,I and their sister J" just say, "hi!" and sit down.

If you're joining a group of people engaged in a conversation, just sit down and listen to the conversation. As the conversation flows, they'll be paying attention to it, not to you, so try not to worry about how you look. And if you're open to the conversation, sooner or later you can organically insert yourself into it by asking a question or adding something that goes along with the flow. Schmoozing is awkward and frustrating --- for pretty much everyone. One of the worst parts is standing there with a drink trying to figure out how to insert yourself into a group you don't know ---- in this case, that's already been done for you. It's good to remember that everyone's usually thinking about how they look, so they're not obsessing about what you're doing. Sitting back and listening lets you relax into the situation and figure out what they're talking about so you have some context.

As the host of a large group bringing in a new person, you can introduce everyone, but primarily just keep hanging out, keep the conversation going. The new person can jump in when she/he feels comfortable. If you notice no one's talking to the new person, try to focus her/him on someone nearby, like "oh Tom, Josh also does comics. He was just at MOCCA." or ask her/him a question. Just keep your eyes open to whether or not some people aren't talking at all and some are doing all the talking.

It sounds like they might've caught you at an awkward moment - if you want to join them, pull up a chair, put your coat and bag on it and tell them you'll be "right back, you're getting a drink. Does anyone want something?" etc etc
posted by Geameade at 4:18 PM on April 23, 2011

There's no way I could remember all of those names.

Which is why no one expects you to.

Introducing you to all those people by name is kind of like people running into each other and asking "How's it going?" The question could be useful if you want to answer about how you're actually doing. But more likely, it's just used as a way to say something and be polite, rather than standing around being awkward or rude. They don't actually care if you happen to perform the memorization feat of learning 7 names in a row, so just put this out of your mind. The subtext of "Hi, how's it going?" is: "I acknowledge your presence in a friendly manner." The subtext of "Robert, this is Emily, Sue, Steve, Bob, Jessica, Ralph, and Louis!" is: "I know you're unfamiliar with this group, but I hope you feel welcome to get to know them." You have permission to instantly forget all their names and ask later on when you need to know an individual's name.
posted by John Cohen at 4:45 PM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

The best way to make friends with strangers is to immediately act like they're your friends already. Smile, get them to talk about what they're interested in, listen to them as opposed to just waiting for your turn to speak and have fun. If you're thinking about your own reactions to things all the time, you're not focusing on the other person and that's the key to success.
posted by joannemullen at 5:23 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here's some anecdata from the other side of things: I'm very good at remembering names, to the point that I've acquired the habit of pretending to ask people to remind me of their name. If an introduction was rushed and I suspect the person doesn't remember my name, I find that it makes them more comfortable if I pretend to need a reminder and open the door to a name-refresh. So... it's really okay. Just say "I'm sorry, what was your name again?"
posted by telegraph at 5:25 PM on April 23, 2011

It looks like others have answered the first part of your question quite well.

In terms of helping others to avoid the same situation - my first thought is that many people (such as those who have responded so far) wouldn't be too put out about being given a list of names, so you needn't worry about it. If you wanted to make doubly sure that they're comfortable, you could introduce them to the group then spend some time in a conversation with your new friend as well as others in the group which makes them a bit more of an insider.
posted by twirlypen at 6:42 PM on April 23, 2011

I was just introduced to a group of nine strangers tonight, and much to my shock, I still remember all their names! The dude doing the introducing made jokes/puns related to each name, which broke up the introductions so they were less of an overwhelming information dump and also provided me with mnemonics to make it easier to remember.

But also, I agree with everyone who says that no one really expects anyone to remember everyone's names, and you probably don't have to worry about it too much.
posted by Vibrissa at 8:25 PM on April 23, 2011

i'm pretty good with names, but i wasn't born that way! i have a bunch of secrets about how i metamorphosized into this magnificent and elusive creature. and i am willing to share them.

first - i REALLY listen when the introductions are happening.
often times, when there's a pretty big group of people being introduced, we can feel nervous "oh man, i'm never going to remember these names, oh wow, i don't know anybody here, jeez, how am i ever going to connect" by which time, the introductions have passed and we feel isolated and overwhelmed, and we haven't even given ourselves a chance! when people are being introduced, i try to at least catch the first couple of names. so 'hey rwatson, this is mark, julie jason, ben, elliot and ted' sounds to me like 'mark, julie, ja... bla bla bla.' so i can at least focus on mark and julie and maybe even jason.

next, i try to repeat the names. 'hi mark, i'm andrea. hey julie, andrea. you're ja...mie? oh sorry. jason. hi, i'm andrea.' this is my sneaky way of doing 2 things. i am repeating MY name a lot, so that people can learn it (chances are, they know each other already, so even if they don't listen to me the first time, by the time they've heard my name 7 times, they get it). also, i'm looking them in the face, saying their name, and thinking 'mark's the dude with the cool glasses, and julie is easy to remember cause she's the only girl, and i had a stuffed animal named jason...'

finally, i try to use their names in conversation later on (like, a minute or two later). this really seals the deal for me, because by now, i've heard a name 3 times plus i've associated something with it. and *snap!* the job's a game.

(then i just have to learn the other 3 names that i missed, and i basically do what everyone else says to do when i have missed the names.)

when i'm introducing people, i try to give people some point of connection. 'rwatson, these are my friends mark and julie, who play dodgeball too!' 'and you and jason are both in bands' etc. this helps people to have some sort of conversation opener, as well as a REASON why they would want to be friendly in the first place. sometimes this is awesome, and sometimes it is a huge flop 'uh, you and mark both have a sister' does not really make for an amazing conversation. sometimes i really screw this one up. but there you go.
posted by andreapandrea at 8:26 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

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