In the first few seconds of meeting you, people can form opinions about you that can last a lifetime. It’s not very cerebral, it kind of just happens automatically, courtesy of the subconscious mind. A person can just look at you and bang, it’s like the Terminator scanning and analyzing you from top to bottom in just few seconds. They look at how you smile, how you walk, your posture and how you present yourself. In an interview or networking situation, those initial few seconds can decide whether you will get the job, whether you will be converting the sales opportunity, or whether the other person wants to work with you or not! So nailing that first impression can make for smooth sailing, or you’ll have to do a lot more work to prove yourself as the right person for the job.
It sounds unfair, right? The fact of the matter is that it _is_ unfair to be judged only by the things on the surface. But it’s also one of those ugly truths that we all have to face at some time or another.
The real question is, in situations like these, how do you make a good first impression? What can you do when you know that people are making decisions about you based on your skin color, dress, appearance and everything physical that they see about you?
Luckily, we can use this same human psychology to our advantage as well. There are several tips, tricks, and guidelines to follow that can adjust the overall packaging and presentation of your personal brand and help influence your first impression to some extent. What follows are some of our favorites.
- Look the part. Always present yourself in the best possible way. Dress appropriately to the occasion and be well-groomed. We’ve all been caught in that awkward situation when we run into an important person at a mall or restaurant, and there you are in your sweatpants. You may have to just get by in that environment, but when you’re at work, or a cocktail party there’s no excuse – you know that you’ll be on display. It doesn’t mean that you have to wear a suit or formal dress all the time, but the idea is to dress with a purpose. This will ultimately make you more confident and leave a good first impression. So make sure that you dress to impress. People notice and it makes a difference.
- Smile because you can and not because you have to. Try to keep a smile on your face and a positive body language with a strong eye contact. Greeting someone with a firm handshake and a happy face does the initial trick to build a foundation for good conversation. Never give a forced or a fake smile but instead try to let others feel that you are happy to meet them. Pay attention to how you walk, how you stand and how you approach others (or have a friend or coach do this for you). It’s essential that the communication you establish with your body is in sync with what’s coming out of your mouth. There’s something primitive about it, but people can generally tell when someone is faking their smile.
- Relax, dammit! Sometimes the most productive thing you can do is relax. Keep calm and try to relax your body through breathing. Getting anxious and uncomfortable during a meeting or conversation is easily visible on your face. So before any important conversation or meeting, just try to relax, slow down and take a few deep breaths and present yourself in a confident way.
- Speak up. When you start or join a conversation, avoid mumbling and using slang. No matter how hip or cool you might think that you sound, it may not create the right impression! Try to speak in a clear, confident manner that commands respect. If you use too many filler words (‘you know?’, ‘like’, ‘um’) or informal language, people might stop listening closely to you and kind of take you for granted. So practice being consistent with your thoughts, speak slowly and take time to think before you respond. You’ll probably find that people listen to you more!
- Find common ground. A psychologist named Robert Cialdini has conducted significant scientific research on the psychology of influence. He famously says that one of the most important things to do when meeting a new person is to quickly establish something in common with them — something that means you are related, similar, or share something in your backgrounds. Apparently even a small relatable element between the two of you is enough to turn you from a potential foe to a friend.
- Don’t forget the basics. These shouldn’t need mentioning, but just as a refresher…
- Don’t be late for a meeting – it shows respect to your audience to be on time or even a little early.
- Don’t forget to turn off your cell phone or keep it on silent mode during your meeting or networking event. Checking your phone is un-professional and can be a real spoiler during meetings. Keeping your eyes and attention on the other person shows them that you’re focused on them, not yourself. Don’t worry — Bieber will probably call back!
- Be rested – make sure you get enough sleep so you’ll be bright-eyed and feeling your best.
- Get their name right – there’s an old trick to look someone in the eye and say their name at least 3 times when you meet them in order to remember their name. It’s an old advertising saying that there is no sweeter word in the English language than the sound of your own name, and it’s true for most people. Don’t be that person who has to reintroduce themselves saying “I am really bad with names!”
- It’s not (just) about you – Try to find out a little about who your audience will be. Is there something you already have in common that you can mention or share? This tip can go a long way to making sure you’re confident about the impression you want to make, and avoiding sounding over-rehearsed.
And that’s it! Easy right?
Ok, it’s not the easiest thing to do, but please remain optimistic, because each first impression hopefully isn’t your last impression. So if you blow it, you can make your way back, it just may take a bit of work and time.
But if you can, it just makes sense to try to make as good a showing as possible, and to stack all the odds in your favor. Feel free to try some of these ideas in your next business meeting, casual setup, or networking event. You may be surprised at what a killer first impression can do for you.
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Yooniko (a brand of Metamorph Corporation) is dedicated to creating the future of unique, personal branding. Find out more here.