It sounds cliché, but you really only do have once chance to make a first impression. And although you might be sick to death of hearing your parents spout this platitude, the reality is that your network and connections can make or break you in this competitive business world. In general, you’ll find it’s a lot easier to form the relationships you need in order to be successful if you’ve taken steps to ensure a good first impression – rather than having to compensate for a bad beginning!
If you aren’t having any luck when it comes to networking and contact building, at least consider that these failures could be due to the impression you make when meeting new people. Then, take the following steps to improve your introduction skills and master the art of making good first impressions.
Step #1 – Check Your Physical Appearance
Before you even open your mouth to greet a new contact, the way you’ve chosen to present yourself is already communicating volumes about who you are as a person. So even if you’re the most well-spoken, articulate person on the planet, your odds of making a good first impression will be diminished substantially if you sabotage yourself with an incongruous physical appearance.
Now, just because your physical appearance matters when it comes to making a good first impression doesn’t mean that you need to walk around in perfectly-pressed, business casual clothing at all times. However, there are a few ground rules you’ll want to follow in order to present an appearance that is consistent with the impression you want to make:
- Dress for the job you want. Again, this might sound a bit cliché, but when selecting your clothing, aim for attire that suggests the role you see yourself in. Doing so will prevent your new contact from experiencing the cognitive dissonance that occurs when your clothing and business goals seem out-of-sync.
- Dress for your body. Simply altering the cut of your clothing to better fit your unique shape can go a long way towards creating a good first impression. Don’t blindly follow trends, but instead adapt the looks you like to suit your figure appropriately.
- Keep clothing in good repair. Wearing dirty, worn, wrinkled or frayed clothing is one way to instantly create a bad impression, so take the time to clean your clothing correctly and either repair or replace pieces that have broken down.
Step #2 – Practice Confidence Signals
Now that you’re looking good, make sure your physical mannerisms match the level of confidence you want to project when meeting new people. Pay special attention to all of the following aspects of personal behavior, as each of these elements has the potential to disrupt the appropriate physical appearance you’ve constructed:
- Keep your hands still and at your sides. Fidgety hands convey an impression of discomfort, so watch out for fingers that fiddle with small objects, touch your face or hair repeatedly, or twist around each other. Keeping your hands resting calmly at your sides makes a much better first impression!
- Roll your shoulders back. Appearing more confident in your first interactions with a new person can be achieved by simply rolling your shoulders back in a confident posture. Slumping the shoulders forward and slouching conveys a sense of low self-esteem, while a rigid, formal posture presents an aggressive front. Find a happy medium between the two by maintaining an erect, but casual posture.
- Practice your “pass the salt” voice. To make your voice sound more confident, imagine yourself asking a friend to pass the salt at the dinner table. You wouldn’t passively whisper this request, nor would you aggressively shout your demand. Instead, you’d ask for what you want in a clear, confident tone – a tone which can be practiced and used when meeting new people to give off the impression of confidence.
Finally, there’s the single most importance confidence signal to consider when meeting new people – the handshake. You’ve probably heard this advice before, but since the effect of this single motion can have such a tremendous bearing on the first impressions you make, it’s critical that you take the time to practice. For best results, think:
- Whole hand (no “kissing the Queen’s fingertips”),
- Firm grasp (no limp fish hands here!), and
- “Two pumps and done” (you aren’t trying to take this person home – get in and get out!).
Step #3 – Develop Situational Awareness
The final key to mastering good first impressions is learning to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Truly, first impressions can happen anywhere – from officially-sanctioned business networking events to the men’s room after the game.
(Of course, I’m saying you should approach every restroom visitor as a potential business contact. Don’t be that guy!)
Situational awareness means being on your best behavior when out in public, as you never know when or where a potentially lucrative introduction could occur. As an example, you’ll find it much easier to make a good first impression if you’re the guy a new contact spotted picking up trash in the parking lot – not the one errantly tossing wrappers out his car window!
Have you ever made a bad first impression that’s come back to haunt you? If so, share what happened and how you recovered from the situation in the comments section below!