An old production friend of mine used to say, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” While some might slough this off as common-sense dribble, I would ask us all to repeat those words at least once every day, preferably as you slug down that first coffee of the morning.
Maybe you are going to be visiting a new client today? Or interviewing for a new job? Or meeting your potential new in-laws? The first 5 seconds you enter their office, home, or personal space will most assuredly set up the dynamic that will govern the rest of your meeting. So, here’s a handy little checklist that will set you up better than others if you simply adhere to it.
Be on time. Nothing says you have no respect for the person you are going to see more than being late. If you get there a few minutes early, good. Catch your breath, make sure your hair doesn’t look like a wind turbine just attacked you, and for gosh sakes pop a mint just for safety’s sake. An old teacher of mine drilled into my head “On time is late.” Keep that in mind, always.
Be buttoned down. This means your notebook doesn’t have grocery lists hanging out of it, that your clothes don’t look like they were just pulled from the hamper, and that you are calm, cool, and collected... Ready for the business or conversation at hand.
Smile. Seriously, show a little veneer to everyone where you’re meeting. From the security desk to reception to the assistant to the big boss to the family dog. You never know who has influence on whom, so showing that you’re pleasant and personable does two things: it demonstrates you are confident in yourself, which leads to the second benefit or being attractive to people you interact with. Your grandmother probably told you you attract more bees with honey, so pour on a little sweetness.
Maintain eye contact. This can be a tough one, as it requires us to cross that mental fence and lock eyes with whomever we’re interacting with. It can be a bit intimidating. But once you do so, you have a far better opportunity to meaningfully convey your message. Eye contact empowers what is called “directionality” of conversation. When the focus becomes this intensive, better results often follow.
This little list is applicable in pretty much any personal interaction you will have. But just like a bad “As-Seen-On-TV-Infomercial”, hang on for the… “But wait! There’s more!!!”
Don’t over-talk. Make your points, be heard, but also listen. The more you listen, the better your impression.
Don’t exaggerate anything. When you exaggerate, you become subtly unsure of yourself, and the micro expressions you give off, even though you are unaware of them, deflates your position. There’s a whole science in law enforcement and clandestine services that focuses on micro expressions and body language, and how we as humans react to them. Maintaining truthfulness can bypass these hindrances, and often honest bluntness is viewed as refreshingly positive by those we’re conversing with.
Put your phone away. Nothing kills your chances of a solid first impression more than being distracted by your phone. It also shows who you’re talking to that you once again don’t value their time, since you obviously can’t devote full attention to them. I once saw someone pull a phone out in a roundtable client meeting. Not to take notes, but obviously swiping on some scrolling email or social media feed. She was an employee of a PR agency who had 4-5 representatives attending the meeting with their client. Her boss noticed. During a break, the boss calmly stepped outside with the employee. And only the boss stepped back in once the meeting resumed.
Respect is a two-way street. By showing who you’re meeting with full respect, you stand to gain theirs as well, which is what you ultimately desire.
These are not difficult guidelines, but in 25 years of business I’m still amazed at the sheer amount of people who lose a client, fail a job interview, get passed up for a promotion, or get enlisted to partner on a task, project, or more simply because they weren’t paying attention to these simple core principles. And everything in them translates into personal interactions as well. So there… a two-fer! You’re welcome.
Now I must get back to my "Facey Spaces" profile update. Which pouty lip selfie should I choose? Hmmm...