How wonderful and full of opportunities life would be if we could all turn on the charm within seconds, and have everyone we meet eating out of our hands? Admittedly, it is something a few people find easy. For others, however, it’s something they need to consciously think about and hone. There’s nothing wrong with that – we all have strengths and weaknesses.
Apparently, we take only a few seconds to weigh someone new up. There’s not an awful lot you can do in seconds to actively influence someone, which is why our tips relate to before you set eyes on them, as you walk towards them, and when you’ve made introductions…because all will form an overall impression.
Here are our thoughts on making the best first impression your conscious mind can conjure…
It’s not just about the moment of meeting. For a lot of us, preparing beforehand can reduce any stress surrounding the meeting of someone new, or when networking with a room full of strangers. Learn what you can about the people you’re meeting, to at least find common ground and easy topics for chat. Doing this also brings a dose of reality to the situation: they’re not giants or gods, they’re just people like you. Think of the impression you want to leave them with – what’s the setting and context for your introduction?
- Present yourself
Adopting a power pose, such as hands on hips, or hands in the air in a victory pose, can help you feel more confident, instantly. An action best done in the loo just before you walk into the place of introduction, this is a simple, quick confidence booster that really works. Start as you mean to go on, and leave the wallflower stance to someone else. Think also about your attire. If you’re wearing something you feel uncomfortable in, you’ll feel less confident and unable to concentrate. This is a simple thing within your control: dress in a way that’s appropriate, and which makes you feel confident, attractive, and at ease.
- Don’t be late
We all know someone amongst our circle, who, without fail, rocks up after everyone else arrives. Perhaps it’s something they’re not aware of – as a friend, you’re willing to overlook it…probably. When meeting someone new, however, being late is a definite no-no. You will say far more about yourself with your tardiness than if you were physically stood in-front of them. Remember: your time is no more valuable than theirs.
- Look approachable
There’s a difference between walking into a room full of confidence, to strutting into it brimming with arrogance. Adopt a smile and think of your body language…are you approachable? A smile is one of the most disarming actions you could adopt. Another is regular eye contact: looking at the walls or ceiling as you walk in and avoiding people’s eyes is a clear sign that you’re nervous. The popular saying is ‘fake it until you feel it’; like many things in life, walking with confidence into a meeting with someone new, or a networking scenario, takes practice, that’s all.
- Shake it, firmly
A limp handshake sends more signals than you may think; the optimum shake is firm, but falling short of squeezing the blood from the body of your new contact. A firm handshake is more evidence of confidence. A gesture that’s recognised across the world, offering your hand to be shaked suggests a person in control, someone welcoming, and a person who acknowledges such acts of respect are important.
One of the tips in Dale Carnegie’s book, ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’, is to use their name frequently. Not so much that you’re name-dropping every sentence, as that gets annoying, but where it’s natural to use it in conversation. Research has shown that we subconsciously warm to, and trust, someone who uses familiarity, like your first name, than someone who doesn’t. It’s a little trick that makes a big difference.
Politeness and showing impeccable manners will leave a positive impression. Don’t just limit it to the person you’re looking to impress, however. How you interact with waiters/waitresses, drivers, indeed, everyone around you, will give your new contact an idea of how you treat people. If you butter them up, but are rude and dismissive to everyone else in the room, which behaviour do you think they’ll remember? Good manners cost nothing. If you aim to treat everyone with respect in all situations, it will become a habit you won’t even have to think about.
- Show interest
Deadpan reactions and a lack of interest in the other person will make an impression, but for the wrong reasons. If you’ve learned a little about the person you’re meeting, ask questions about their work/achievements/way of life. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason; talking AT your new contact, rather than talking TO them, will not see them asking for another get-together. Compliment them, make a conscious effort to take a real interest in what they’re saying – think of the opportunities you may miss if all you’re doing when the other person is talking is thinking about what YOU want to say next. Pay attention, remove distractions (i.e. switch your phone off!), and really concentrate on who you’re talking to.
- Mirror, mirror
We’re social creatures, who can read body language like a fine-tuned instrument. Considering more than 90% of our communication is non-verbal, understanding people’s behaviour, gestures and expressions, and the subconscious clues they give away, will help you influence them. A good way to use this skill is to mirror the person opposite you. Again, on a subconscious level – and harking back to early in our evolution, when understanding social constructs and circles were crucial to our survival – mirroring actions builds a level of rapport your contact probably won’t even be aware of.
- Be yourself
We realise we’re talking about dismissing nerves, adopting a persona and stance of a confident person, and making a conscious effort to act, perhaps, differently to you would in the majority of other situations. This is only intended to present the best version of you, because the worst thing to do would be to play someone else altogether – putting on an act is hard to sustain and could leave a very sour impression indeed when you revert to your default settings. Don’t strive to be too perfect, either, because it’s unrealistic. Warmth, empathy, and particularly honesty, are traits that people react positively to.
Emerge can help you increase your confidence, improve your communication skills and hone your networking dexterity. We coach organisations, teams and individuals; contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us on 01329 820580 for more information.