As the saying goes, a first impression is a lasting impression. Those precious first few moments of interaction with a new contact can have a major impact on how that person sees you for the entirety of your relationship. A bad first impression can be difficult (and sometimes impossible) to overcome, while a good one can help you stand out in a positive and memorable way.
Whether you’re attending a networking event, heading into a job interview or meeting your new boss for the first time, the initial meeting can be one of the most important interactions you’ll ever have. Don’t take it lightly; try these tips to help you make a great first impression.
1. Be Punctual
Whether you’re meeting by phone, video conference or in person, don’t arrive late. It astonishes me how often this basic principle of respect is disregarded in the workplace. We know you’re busy; we all are. But if you have a planned meeting, it’s your responsibility to make sure you’re there on time—and if that’s impossible, reach out in any way you can to let the person know. Otherwise, as they sit there waiting for you, their impression of who you are as a professional is rapidly deteriorating.
Take any and all necessary measures to ensure you are on time. If you’re meeting in person on the other side of town, for example, leave early just in case you hit traffic. If you have a phone call on the schedule, block an additional 15 minutes before the start time so you can be sure you’re at your desk and prepared. If you have a meeting immediately before, tell them at the very beginning that you have to wrap up on time. No one will fault you for keeping a tight schedule—unless you’re unable to manage it effectively.
Also, be cautious of arriving too early as well. Punctuality is all about respecting the other individual’s time and schedule. If you have a planned in-person appointment, arriving a few minutes ahead of schedule is professional and respectful. Just make sure to let whoever greets you know that you are aware you’re early and it’s not a problem for you to have a seat and wait. Don’t decide that it’s better for you to drop in a half-hour early, or call at a time other than the one you had planned. When appointments are set, people plan their days around them. Don’t go throwing a wrench into things.
2. Refine Your Self-Presentation
When meeting people in person, your self-presentation speaks volumes. This encompasses all aspects of your physical being—including wardrobe, hair and makeup, and accessories, as well as how you carry yourself. Your walk, facial expressions, eye contact and general demeanor all play a role in how you’re received by others.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to put on an act and wear your best power suit for every meeting. You can, and should, develop your own style that feels right for you based on your role, your personal brand and your business. At the same time, be mindful of who you are meeting and the purpose for which you are meeting them. Some situations, like job interviews, require more formality, while a more casual self-presentation is perfectly acceptable for other situations.
Always ask yourself, “Does my physical presence reflect the professionalism I want others to see?”
Putting some care and attention into your external appearance will naturally boost your confidence. When you feel certain that you’re physically projecting an image you are pleased with, you can walk into events and meetings with your head held high…and you may even sound different over the phone.
3. Perfect Your Handshake
Your handshake is an essential piece of self-presentation, and one of the most important elements of the in-person professional greeting. To help you assess (and enhance) your skill with this crucial maneuver, here’s a short excerpt from my e-book, “Modern Business Etiquette: More than Manners.”
In my opinion, there’s nothing worse than a wet noodle handshake—except perhaps a vice grip, bone-breaking handshake. Both make equally poor first impressions.
Have you ever had one of those fingertip-only handshakes? A friend of mine told me that’s how he imagines royalty greets the “little people.” That’s how I feel when I get a weak handshake…like the person doesn’t really want to touch me, like I might be contagious, or like I’m not worth the energy it takes to produce a nice, solid grip.
When I get one of those overly tough handshakes, I feel like it’s a challenge, as if the person is trying to prove something to me. Then there’s the handshake that’s so short it’s more like a swipe across your hand, and the ones that are so long, it starts to feel creepy. It’s hard to believe how many ways people have found to mess up something as simple as a handshake!
There is a happy medium here. A handshake should be a welcoming gesture—firm but not overbearing, long enough to make eye contact and smile, but not so long that it feels overly intimate. Practice with your friends if you’re not sure about it, and ask for their honest feedback.
In North America, handshakes are gender neutral. There are no more rules in the modern workplace regarding who can or should extend his or her hand first. In the past, proper etiquette was for women to wait for men to extend their hands and for lower-ranking professionals to wait for higher-ranking ones. However, these are antiquated and unnecessary in today’s business world.
Therefore, don’t hesitate to reach out! It’s perfectly acceptable and it’s a great way of inviting someone to interact with you.
4. Get Comfortable with Small Talk
Chit-chat is a professional necessity, especially when interacting with someone for the first time. You don’t want to just jump immediately into business without first creating some warmth between you. Small talk gets the flow of conversation going, helps build rapport, and shows that you’re a friendly, confident individual. If you’re a naturally shy or reserved person, it’s worth your while to really work on this skill and master the art of small talk.
You don’t have to be a conversational mastermind to do this well. You can always fall back on universally relatable topics like the weather, city traffic, local sports teams, and upcoming holidays. Most people can easily and comfortably comment on these things. While it might feel like superficial banter, a few minutes is enough to break the ice and find a common connection with almost anyone, even if it’s small.
5. Remember Names
Finally, do whatever you can to commit names to memory immediately. Nothing turns people off more than having to re-introduce themselves. It makes them feel unimportant and disrespected. Consequently, nothing makes people feel more special than when someone they have met only briefly remembers their name. Do your best to remember names the first time you hear them. If you need to, after attending a networking event for example, make a few notes on whom you met and what you spoke about. That way, you’ll be able to remember them in the future.
First impressions are important in the working world—you never get a second chance to do them over. People create all kinds of perceptions within a matter of minutes, and those perceptions can impact your career for a long, long time. Thankfully, you have a lot of control in the situation. Practice these 5 tips to create winning first impressions every time.