A first impression is pretty instantaneous. Research shows that the first time you meet someone it may only take three seconds for them to decide what they think about you. In thirty seconds the whole concept of you is usually set in stone and you find out whether you’re in or you’re out. That includes job interviews and potential business partnerships.
There you go, you have thirty seconds to be your best, so let’s make sure your first impression is your best first impression.
When you’re running your own business having the ability to build rapport with anyone is crucial. You never know when you might meet a potential client, partner, or mentor, so it’s worthwhile spending time and taking action to make a good first impression.
While most of a best first impression can come down to common sense, here are five secrets to making the best first impression that will give you an edge.
1. Know Your Outcome
The biggest part of making a good first impression begins well before the actual handshake.
Establishing what you want to get out of the encounter is key to bringing your best and most appropriate you, as well as attracting the outcome you desire. This is especially effective before a networking event or party, where you might become overwhelmed in a room full of people.
As you get dressed and make your way to the event, consider what kind of people you want to meet and what kind of relationships you want to build.
Knowing what impression you want to leave behind will prepare your mind and energy for the rest of the experience. As we move through the rest of the secrets to making the best first impression you’ll find other ways where Secret #1 will allow you to prepare accordingly because remember, you’re either on your own agenda, or you’re on someone else’s!
2. Be Confident and Bring Energy
We use and read body language all the time, without even realising it. It’s the number one signal we give off as to what mood we are in and the kind of energy we bring with us.
This one is important because it’s your energy people will want more of, or possibly less of.
Take the time in that initial introduction to use your body language to present the kind of energy that has people saying, “Yes please”.
Just being aware of your body language is usually enough to make effective improvements. If you are not sure of where you need a nudge, ask a friend to assess you or video yourself in a mock networking situation and see what impression you get when you play it back.
Some things to keep in mind:
• Stand tall and walk tall
• Be the person who makes the approach and introduction
• Make sure your shoulders are back
• Make eye contact (you have nothing to hide!)
• Greet with a firm handshake (I said firm, not tight or dominating)
• Match and mirror their body language slightly or subtly to establish a sense of similarity and trust. People who are like each other, like each other!
• Keep your body open. Folded arms or crossed legs are closed body language that can break rapport.
Confidence just means being completely comfortable with who you are and what you have to offer. The message you will send, through your posture, a calm tone of voice and a sense of openness about your meeting shows you know what you are worth and what you are capable of.
It’s a very attractive and positive energy that will quickly win people over. If you try to push it or fake it, you risk coming off as cocky and that’s the opposite of making a good first impression. Be yourself and know that’s enough.
3. Present Yourself Respectfully
Your clothes are literally 95 percent of what people see, so how you dress may seem material, however, it is important when making a good first impression.
Details matter, so pick your items thoughtfully. It’s not so much about having the ‘right’ watch and the ‘right’ hairstyle and the ‘right’ make-up, it’s being aware that your presentation says something about you. Is it what you want it to say?
Wear something you like, this will reflect your personality and you will feel more comfortable which will improve your self-confidence. It will also give people something to comment on and identify with, you’d be surprised how easily this works. A tie, a necklace or your favourite colour is a great conversation point and something that is a genuine snapshot of you.
If you are not feeling confident an image consultant can give you advice on what colours, fit and style of clothes and accessories will flatter and compliment you.
Be considerate of the occasion, wearing clothes that fit with the setting is a show of respect. There is nothing more offensive than someone who wears thongs to a job interview or doesn’t wear a costume to a themed party. When you take the time to dress accordingly, what people see is that you care.
The same goes for how well you’re groomed. Should you accidently bump into some people on the street and make introductions, how they see you matters. You might not have been expecting to be socialising that day, but if you are unkempt, your shirt’s not ironed and you have two-day stubble, the message you give is that you don’t care about yourself. So care. Care enough to take the time no matter what you are doing. Respect for yourself is just as strong a message as respect for other people.
4. Smooth Navigation
We’d love for every first meeting to go smoothly, life doesn’t always go that way though, so handling tricky, awkward or disastrous situations gracefully will nail that first impression and accelerate you to star status. This is especially important if you are wanting to establish a leadership position on the first meeting.
Being able to navigate your way out of a crisis without hurting anyone’s feelings is a great way to establish your authority and be seen as someone reliable. I’m not suggesting you manifest a crisis, in fact, you can assist in avoiding them by turning off your phone and eliminating distractions.
• Be humorous
• Be honest
• Continue breathing
• Stay calm
• Stay positive
• Make a positive statement
• Let it go, it’s okay to make mistakes. You are human!
I was once in the room with a very successful and powerful business owner who met a celebrity for the first time. The celebrity thought he’d done his homework and asked, ‘How’s your wife?’ To which the reply was, ‘She left me eight months ago.’
Okay, so that’s awkward. However, it was smoothly handled by the celebrity who laughed and said, ‘Let me just take my size 12 shoe out of my mouth.’ Instantly the energy of the room returned to a place of calm and the conversation flowed.
Never engage in negative comments or gossip, it gives the impression that you are untrustworthy and also, in new situations you might be making the wrong comments about someone important, like your bosses daughter. A bad turn there will never be forgiven. Gossip and negative talk is a cancer in any organisation!
5. Ask Open-Ended Questions
This is my favourite secret for making a good first impression. The most effective way to seem interesting is to show a keen interest in what the other person is saying or doing.
Ask questions that start with How, Who, When and Where. These questions ensure more than a Yes/No reply, and are less invasive that a question beginning with ‘Why?’
I’ll never forget the experience I had in a bar in Manly when I first learned the technique of open-ended questions. I met a new person who was there with some friends of mine and decided to test the open-ended question theory. For the next 90 minutes, I only asked How, Who, Where and When questions.
I didn’t need to tell him a single thing about myself. The feedback I got? I am the most interesting person on the planet. The truth is, he thought he was interesting, and he felt comfortable with me!
So don’t feel as though you have to say all the right things or have all the right answers, it’s all about asking the right questions. When they are talking about themselves, they are never going to get it wrong.
You are required to be present for this to work.
• Remember what they say, so names and significant events, you can then use this to add back into questions later on
• Let them finish their sentences, even if you are excited to participate!
• Stay completely focused on them
• Fidgeting, playing with your hair or glancing at people, your phone or things around you will have you seem disinterested and the effect will be lost
The effect of being interested is you will have better conversations and lasting connections because they, in turn, become more interested in you.
Bonus Tip: Be Forgiving
There are lots of rules when it comes to making a good first impression. There seems to be a tally of points and you lose out for being late, having a bad hair day or putting your foot in your mouth.
When meeting someone, understand that these actions or behaviours may be a once off and don’t reflect the true nature of the person. By letting go of judgments and allowing a person to prove themselves in more than a meagre 30 seconds, you take the pressure off and you open the door to a more genuine relationship.
Think of the movie the Pursuit of Happiness in which Chris Gardner (Will Smith) arrives at an interview in a paint splattered tee-shirt and cargos. Imagine the pressure, knowing you were showing up to the most important interview of your life in overalls, and your explanation is, “I spent the night in jail.”
It’s an instant strike out. Be the person who looks past the appearance and the circumstance and sees something bigger. In this case, the true introduction is with a man who is committed enough and courageous enough to turn up anyway, even when life throws a wicked curve ball. Now that’s someone you want on your team, right? Get to know the true person within before casting your judgement.
I hope these secrets to making the best first impression help you in all your business and personal relationships!