How important is a positive first impression?

Six ways to make a good first impression

After graduating from college with a degree in English and no real career plan except to work in New York City, I started doing networking interviews with people in a variety of industries. One meeting was with a high intensity sales manager at a consumer goods company.

Within moments of meeting me, he bluntly said: “You’ll never make it in sales.”

He went on to explain that he could tell I was too nice and didn’t have the toughness needed to succeed in the highly competitive world of sales. In hindsight, he was probably right about my 22 year-old self. But I was taken aback by how quickly he’d assessed and dismissed me.

The truth is, people judge us instantaneously.

Research from Princeton University found that we decide if someone is trustworthy, competent and likeable in less than a second. And once formed, these first impressions are hard to change.

So whether you have a high stakes meeting with a prospective client, new boss, or job interviewer, it’s important to feel confident you’re showing up at your best from the start.

Here are six ways to make a positive first impression

1. Check your body language. While most of us spend a lot of time preparing what we’re going to say, we often overlook what we’re communicating without saying a word. And studies show that your nonverbal communication is much more powerful than anything you say. Stand tall, use open postures, and avoid nervous gestures.

2. Perfect your handshake. If done correctly, your handshake can instantly increase how much someone likes and trusts you. Keep your handshake firm, confident and friendly. Avoid handshakes that convey a negative impression. These include the dead fish (weakness), finger tip brush (lack of confidence), or the vise-like squeeze (need to control).

3. Make eye contact. Direct eye contact shows that you’re open, focused and interested in the person you’re meeting. It can even strengthen the perception that you’re a good listener. Be careful about looking down or to the side which may communicate that you’re hiding something. And avoid getting into a staring match which creates tension and discomfort.

4. Smile. An authentic smile – one that reaches your eyes – communicates that you’re confident and trustworthy. And research shows that trustworthiness is the first quality we judge when we initially meet someone. You don’t need to overdo it with a big cheesy grin – people will intuitively sense a phony, insincere smile. Keep it natural.

5. Watch your tone. The sound of your voice influences how you’re perceived even more than the words you say. Lower-pitched voices tend to be associated with leadership. It’s hard to tell how you sound without recording yourself, so give that a try. It may feel strange at first, but it can help you make some powerful changes to your tone, pace and vocal variety.

6. Connect. If you have a no-nonsense style and like to get right down to business, you may unwittingly be communicating that you lack warmth and empathy. To counteract this perception, take time for small talk. It helps you connect on a personal level, and quickly builds rapport and trust. This sets a positive foundation for the rest of the meeting.

Will Rogers said it best:

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

Make yours count.

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