5 Strategies to Winning First Impressions and Making Your Initial Encounter Count!
Growing up, we often heard “Never judge a book by its cover.” But as we got older, that statement may have lost some of its relevance: we do, after all, live in a world where snap judgments and first impressions play a key role in winning a job, a business deal or a date. So the truth is, it’s not just about the book anymore – whether we like it or not, the cover can be important as well!
A lot has been said about why and how first impressions matter. Research has shown that people take only a few seconds (Forbes magazine says the number is seven, to be exact) to form an opinion about someone else. Our brains immediately take in a lot of verbal and non-verbal data and determine whether or not we will like the person in front of us. Elements such as an individual’s appearance, body language, facial expressions, handshake, tone of voice and much more contribute to the person being labeled as “trustworthy” or “confident” – or perhaps something not quite as positive.
So how do we make sure that we tip the scales in our favor and make a good impact right from the start? Here are a few strategies to create a spark every time we meet someone new:
1. Glow with a Smile
It is said that “the shortest distance between two people is a curve” – so smile! It’s contagious, makes you look beautiful and more approachable, and immediately puts the other person in a relaxed state.
Smiling also inherently changes the voice of your tone. It makes you a little more animated and expressive, and easier for others to connect with you. All of this takes the strain off of that first meeting.
2. Take Time to Prepare – on an Individual Basis
A little bit of preparation goes a long way. Prepare your introduction. This does not mean coming up with a “blanket script” – one mistake that many professionals make is to use the same “elevator pitch” at every business interaction.
Instead, tailor your introduction to suit the audience and purpose of your meeting. Which of your strengths and accomplishments is going to be most relevant to the person sitting in front of you? In other words, find out how you can help answer their “what’s in it for me?” curiosity.
Also, keep in mind a few open-ended questions to facilitate engaging conversations. That way you can avoid awkward silent moments where no one knows what to talk about next. Do your homework and a little bit of due diligence about the person and her/his background. It helps to read about their organization, work experience and profile from social media.
3. The Crucial Role of Clothes
“Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; Dress impeccably and they remember the woman.” – Coco Chanel
Dressing appropriately for a meeting will definitely create a positive professional image. Customize your look for the occasion, your audience, and your industry – then throw in your unique style statement. Take time and pay attention to details: iron out those crinkles and shine those shoes. Use straight hems and cuts and dark colors when you are trying to establish authority. Looking smart will not only make you look more confident, but also help you to feel that way!
4. Compose Yourself
Stay serene and relaxed. This will help you maintain a natural body language. Meeting someone new is fun and exciting, so stay calm to maximize the experience. Read some tips here from the Alliance Solutions Group on how to breathe deeply during an interview, and further pointers here on how to soothe yourself in general while having that important initial face-to-face.
Above all, remind yourself when stressed of your unique strengths and accomplishments. Be confident in who you are.
5. Be Curious and Considerate
Stay keen, and stay interested! Be eager to know more about the person. Ask their story and give them a chance to begin the conversation. By letting someone speak first, you create instant rapport and trust, says Amy Cuddy, TED speaker and social psychologist at the Harvard Business School. Read an article here about more of her insights into the “First Impressions” hurdle we all face in business.
Also, try to find some commonalities and shared interests. They lead to great conversations and trusted relationships. Having a mutual passion, hobby, or acquaintances can create instant rapport. Be focused on listening to what the other person has to say. Many a time people jeopardize their meeting because of a lack of attentive listening.
Which leads me to an important point: although it is clearly important to get the first impressions right, challenge your snap judgments from time to time. If someone has disappointed you in your initial meeting, do not write off a relationship — especially an important one — just on the basis of one rendezvous. Sometimes, if you move past that first interaction, a great professional or personal relationship might be in store for you.
But if on your end, you make an effort to aim for a good initial impact, you will be at peace with the thought that “you might not get a second chance to make a first impression.” So stand out — and stay memorable!20