Before I leave my post as a regular contributor to the blogosphere, I wanted to leave a parting gift. Few of you are aware that I am the author of the greatest pick-up line in history — nor its lesson in communication theory.

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Boy, we all sweat over that one, don’t we? To know that a potential lifetime relationship, be it personal or business, swings in the balance of a single encounter. It’s enough to make you sick. Some people do get sick, as a matter of fact. It’s not necessary, though… if you understand the science of first impressions, and the most important part: Some might call it “The Icebreaker,” but essentially we’re talking about a pick-up line.

Whatever your application — phone scripts — sales pitches — some are designed to win another over, some to get your foot in the door. Some are milked to death, and some are cheesy. You’ve probably seen a list or two of the worst ones in your e-mail. We all know what makes them bad, but don’t always recognize what makes them good.

With that in mind, let me tell you about the best pick-up line ever

It was the summer of 1984, and I had just turned 15 years old. We’d been in Alabama for a year, and I was still making adjustments. I guess that’s why my parents let me take the trip back to Idaho to see my old friends. I couldn’t drive, but I snagged enough money doing odd jobs that I could pay for the trip: Amtrak, all the way. (Remember, this was 1984, and I had shown signs of being responsible.)

The trip would take three-and-a-half days each way, and I was to spend two weeks visiting in between. As eager as I was to get there, I was just as eager to relax and enjoy the countryside.

Till it all got flat.

Then I went back to my books.

Along the way, though, I started admiring some of the sights inside the train. You meet all kinds of people in coach… All kinds: Overburdened moms, with screaming kids. Grandparents, with nothing but time. Wedding guests, funeral parties, and angels.

Oh yeah… Angel. That was her name (although I didn’t know it yet.) She was a glorious sight to behold inside that train. She looked to be about 19, with medium-length blonde hair, a healthy tan, and a smile that could melt titanium. It was all I could do to keep from drooling. And it was all she could do to keep this other guy from drooling… on her!!!

If Angel truly was an angel, then this guy was be-deviling her. Or at least trying to tempt her. He was in his early-to-mid thirties, rather unkempt, and had the kind of body that was just an NFL season or two away from landing him in the Bud Bowl Hall of Fame. Not quite a beer gut, but a promising start. She really wasn’t interested in “Bud.” But he sure was interested in getting her to follow him back to the bar car. She was in the window seat, and he was in the aisle seat, boxing her in.

I would have given anything just to talk to this girl, but I didn’t stand a chance with “Bud” in the way. I needed the perfect line.

I marched up to the seat in front of his, squared my shoulders, took a deep breath… and stomped like Rumplestiltskin while uttering the greatest icebreaker in the history of interpersonal relationships:

“Dad wants to see you in the sleeper car right now!!!”

(You would think there should have been trumpets or something, maybe a cascade of balloons and confetti, or a trip to Disney World… but I digress.)

Angel looked up at me, and her perfect eyes flashed a perfect mix of some perfectly raw emotions. Shock. Confusion. Abject Terror. She looked at me like I had been smoking crack (another stunning accomplishment, considering that crack was another five years away from being patented.)

She stared at me for an eternity, or one second, whichever one was shorter.

She turned and looked at Bud.

She shot a quick glance at me, turned back to Bud, and said “I gotta go.”

We walked the length of the train before sitting down next to each other in coach. I shook her hand and said “My name’s Isaac.”

Angel turned out to be a sweet person. We sat on that train and talked for hours. As far as I was concerned, I SCORED! (What did you expect? I was fifteen, she was nineteen, and we were sitting in coach!)
Little did I know it, but I had stumbled on a formula that replaces the guesswork of “breaking the ice” with pure science.

1) Recognize a need
This was clearly a damsel in distress. She wanted a way out of the situation.

2) Propose a solution
I gave her an alternative (me) that was better than the one she had (Bud)

3) Make it relevant to your shared reality
“Wow, look at those cows whiz by!” “Have you been to the caboose?” or even “Can I get you anything?” would have been completely useless. Only one thing mattered to her at that point. My hopes and needs weren’t going to get satisfied until hers were.

4) Make it timely
If a line works more than once, then it is just a line. If it only works on that one occasion, then the other person will know that you are truly communicating with them, and not seeing them as a means to an end.

Not every pick-up line or icebreaker will follow these rules, but it has been my experience that the most effective ones do. They don’t have to be offbeat, and they don’t even have to be memorable. They must, however, open a channel to the other person by sending an important signal: We can interact in a way that will benefit us both.

The best icebreakers are developed in an instant. The attitudes of recognizing another’s needs, being open-minded, and losing your fear of embarrassment are developed over a long period of time. Work on those things, and the memorable icebreakers will flow right from you.

(Angel – if you’re out there somewhere… you’re welcome. Just wanted to let you know I got something out of it too.)