This post was written by Hannah Morris, Director of Assessment & Advancement at The Latimer Group.
What elements stand out to you when you meet someone for the first time? We often hear about the handshake, appearance, warmth, and conversation.
Making positive first impressions is highly important for our success – both professionally and personally. In certain roles, this is a critical skill because we are interacting with new clients, suppliers, vendors all the time. When we make a positive first impression, people are eager to work with us and see us succeed. When that first impression is only so-so, or downright negative, we have a lot of work to do to change perceptions and build a working rapport.
So what are we doing when we make a first impression?
First, we are trying to capture attention and hold it. We want our audience to be engaged and interested. We want to leave them eager for more.
Second, we want to make a statement about ourselves or our business. We want the audience to leave knowing something important about us, what we do and why it matters. We want to make it meaningful and memorable.
Finally, we are building credibility. We are all constantly engaged in the act of building, or unfortunately losing, credibility. We want the audience to feel confident in our competence and conviction.
And what is the audience doing? Judging. It’s not because they are bad people, it is because that is what we do as humans. We gather information to make important decisions. In the age of early humans, this was to determine the threat level and decide to fear and flee. But in modern day business, the audience is simply deciding whether or not to listen to you and trust you.
The factors that they are assessing – usually subconsciously – are your confidence, conviction, likability, manners, and general ease. This comes through most readily in the physical manifestations, such as eye contact, physical contact (handshake, hand on shoulder), facial expressions, posture and gestures, and later with the verbal cues of small talk, speech patterns and choice of topics.
But they are also gauging your interest in THEM. This is a critical element that we neglect when we get too focused in how we come across. No one enjoys meeting people who only talk about themselves. We get the sense that we could disappear, and they wouldn’t even notice. The best first impressions strike the right balance between the ME and the YOU.
So how do we prepare to make the best first impressions?
Practice key statements out loud. We should all be able to clearly and concisely tell others what we do and why it is important. I became acutely aware of this when I started working for an organization that teaches people how to get to the point. Practice your “Elevator Pitch” so that when someone asks, your statement will be easy to understand and remember.
And even more importantly, focus on the exchange. Consider what you have to offer and share with your audience and also what you can learn from them. Lob the ball over to them from time to time by asking a question or making a connection to something or someone that they know and care about. And then really listen. Active listening is a sine qua non for true connection.
Everything we do communicates a message to our audience, and we want to be intentional about the script and tone of that message. The next time you meet someone new, be aware of the signals that you are sending out and taking in and consider how you can refine the impression you make.
Does your team:
– Take too long to make decision?
– Fail to ask for what it wants or needs from you?
– Make things too complicated?
– Deliver unconvincing or disorganized presentations?
– Have new hires who are unprepared to communicate in the workplace?
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