The Black Hat Attendee Guide Part 5 - Meaningful Introductions

Blog Post created by treyford Employee on Jul 23, 2015

If you are just joining us, this is the fifth post in the series starting here.

Making An Introduction


I might be wrong, but I’ll argue that networking is a transitive verb, so ENGAGE! The real magic starts happening as you progress:

  • Level 1-- Start with a “Hi, my name is… ” Yes, it’s that simple, thanks to Slim Shady
  • Level 2-- Demonstrate that you have an idea of the world the other person lives in, their passions and interests
  • Level 3-- Make a meaningful (and unforgettable) introduction


Connecting people is like a sport for me, and I enjoy it immensely. A good introduction might be the most wonderful gift you can give someone, I have been so endeared to those giving a graceful introduction. There is a fine line between grace and flattery (i.e., an unfounded and disingenuous compliment), so get it right, keep it real… or go so completely tangential—they’ll laugh as you run off to your pressing appointment.

Introductions serve a purpose, the motivation should be self-evident when you are done. I see the introduction as an event: You are investing energy and excitement into the lives of two people, regardless of how well you know them, or may be walking someone through the door of opportunity, changing their career path forever.

Make it a point to use people’s names when connecting them. Make sure you’re pronouncing their name correctlynever be afraid to ask, laughably mispronounce, or politely reaffirm if you’re not sure!


There is a chance they’ve already met and know each other well and you’re new to the party. Flipside, perhaps they’ve met and maybe don’t remember each other’s names (I’m THAT guy!). I’d recommend starting off with an “oh dear—Jim, have you met Ryan?” It’s a safe tactic: You’ll know instantly where you stand, and whether or not to charge into introductions.

Sometimes you have to neutralize an awkward air because someone is standing too close, maybe that killed a serious and sensitive conversation that was happening, so be aware of that when you approach.

I have a specific and reckless strategy, unapologetically stolen and adapted from my good friend Quinton Jones—he’s something of a Yoda figure in my world who is basically a genius at this kind of thing. Quinton’s guidance might be summarized as follows:

  • Check your brain at the door.
    Analysis paralysis is a conversation killer, doubly so when surrounded by introverts at Black Hat!  How? (See this post.)
  • Say hello, and be slow to judge.
    Question, if not flat-out ignore convention, find comfort knowing that we all say stupid stuff. Ignore the mechanics, feed on the excitement of their world!
  • Speak from the heart, try to meet people where *they* are.
    Be genuine, be real, and be sensitive to the world/stress/distractions/interest of the folks standing before you.
  • In brokering an introduction, get their attention, be memorable, build intrigue ... or offer a bold-faced lie—more than memorable, be unforgettable!
    Never be guilty of the bland, one-sentence email intro… this is almost unforgivable in person. *YAWN* If you can’t find the angle, go hyperbolic and be obvious about it!

introducemyself.jpgYour introduction will address these three key questions:

1) What do I need to know?

A decent introduction must cover these basics at an absolute minimum.

  • Who is this person, what is their name, how did you meet them?
  • Where are they from, what do they do?
    • This could be their job, their field of expertise, a challenge they’re exploring at the show, tech needs they have, positions they are hiring for, hobbies the other person may find interesting, or how amazing their BBQ is


2) Why do I care?

A proper introduction will give the introducees some context to help ensure it doesn’t die the second you leave, as well as to help all parties remember each other a little better in the long-run.

  • They’ll care, even if only a little bit, because they respect you, and they’re being polite
  • Perhaps they are both from the same tribe (appsec, pen testing, etc), heading for the same talk, looking to hire similar people, or have a common passion

3) What do you need from me?

A really damn good introduction will have a call to action, setting conversational wheels in motion.

  • “You two should discuss <be pointed--THIS TOPIC>”
  • “Look, we just met, and this is my best friend, they’re my favorite human on this planet, so make nice!”
  • “One of you had an amazing perspective on something from this talk or booth we saw, or you destroyed the lab in this workshop -- tell us again!”


WOW! This person is cool, now what?

At some point, you’ll get introduced to someone amazing. Sometimes a card exchange is customary. You’ve got a fleeting moment to anchor that connection when appropriate, so have a plan to connect with them again via:

  • Twitter
    • Tweets and DMs make a great way to track folks down or invite them to gatherings later. A quick “@username Nice chatting with you about $topic today” can do wonders in keeping that conversation--and relationship--going. And serve as a handy reminder about who you just met.
    • Please consider putting a real face as your avatar (even if only during the event.)
    • Put a link in there to your LinkedIn profile.
    • @Gabe Bassett has some great thoughts on using Twitter in InfoSec
  • LinkedIn
    • Seriously, you should have a real profile, with a real picture. Seriously.
    • This page serves as a living CV/resume, so treat it with that same level of seriousness and respect.
  • Phone numbers
    • It’s kinda old-school, but it’s a thing that won’t go away. Some folks will have burner phones for the week, so make sure you know how to track them down in the longer term.
    • Pro-Tip: On my iPhone, I have a ‘Trey Ford’ entry with my contact information—work and personal email, phone, address, etc—that I can just tap “Share Contact” and send it on its way. If you have an iPhone, it saves time typing in all your info.
  • Email. (Duh!)
  • Business Cards
    • Approximately the worst option, but it is a formal tool.
    • Stop and write (on the card) how you met, and DO SOMETHING WITH IT to follow up before you misplace that card. (I am still guilty of this, striving to improve.)

Just to be thorough, let’s cover points of performance for introductions to an audience:

  • You don’t use the person's name until the very end. Period. You are building energy up to this point.
  • Do not cover the speaker’s material, but rather why you are excited to hear them. Share how the speaker is uniquely qualified or positioned to provide meaningful perspective.
  • Share a brief anecdote or story about the person, their achievements or credentials.
  • Be positive, and build the energy all the way up to: “Join me in welcoming Herbert OZWOLDO BLUMPERFARKEN!!!” (or somesuch)


Did that feel like a non-sequitur? Good. I’ve wrecked a mess of public introductions, so this is my penance, I think everyone should know Dale Carnegie’s recipe for public speaking introductions… you’ll know if Black Hat proctors took note.


Parting Shots

Black Hat USA attendance is a serious commitment and investment. Come well-rested, well-groomed, and well-prepared to meet some amazing people.


Be deliberate in your time and interactions, try to manage your energy levels. Bring your very best.


As always, I welcome additions, edits and feedback—comment here or say hi on Twitter!


Continue on to Part 6 of this series: The Sponsor Hall, Arsenal & more

...Or go back and read Part 4: Talking to the Media & Press

Want more? You can read the rest of the Black Hat Attendee's Guide series here.