You’ve probably heard the statistic that we make judgments about people within seven seconds of meeting them. These judgments include opinions about a person’s trustworthiness, disposition, personality, and social status.
How people judge you and your employees reflects on what they think about your business. Choose wisely who represents the face of your company, and ensure they understand the importance of making a good first business impression.
Psychologists at Princeton analyzed people’s inferences about others at 100 milliseconds, 500 ms, a whole second, and longer. They found there was virtually no difference in the judgments at which people arrived after the first 100 ms.
Whether the process takes a few seconds or less than one, there’s no question that how we come across to people when they first meet us is extremely important. This is particularly true if we’re talking about the realm of business.
How well we network with people directly influences our success or failure in our careers and the success of our business. Here are some tips for how to make the best possible first impression possible.
How to Make a Good First Impression in Business
Consider Business Attire
Any time you’re meeting a client, whether you’re doing a leisure activity or having a business meeting, it’s important you present yourself well and appropriately. It is equally important to educate your employees and other representatives on what your company considers appropriate business attire.
Hopefully, you’re taking advantage of trade fairs and conferences, which are opportunities to network with many people at one time. When striving to make an unforgettable impression at a conference, “you can make between 30-100 first impressions in a day.”
Making a good first business impression involves several factors:
- what you talk about
- your overall behavior
- having a plan
- nonverbal communication
It might seem superficial to stress the importance of attire when making a first impression. But if people subconsciously make snap judgments, how you dress is key to shaping how they see you.
It should be common sense that you don’t want to appear sloppy. But you also don’t want to come across as stiff and formal. That could make you seem unapproachable.
How you dress really depends on your industry, the venue, and your position in your company. You might be surprised to hear that, when choosing your clothing, your own comfort should be one of your top priorities. It will be incredibly difficult for you to interact naturally with others if your clothes are making you feel uneasy and awkward.
Make sure your clothing is appropriate and well-tailored. Tailoring goes a long way to making you appear professional. Aim for being stylish without being overly flashy.
Keep your target customers in mind when choosing the appearance you and your employees and other representatives should present. What may be too “out there” for one industry might be perfectly acceptable in another.
Put Others First
Your overall behavior and the decisions you make can have a lot of impact. Your guiding principle should be: put other people’s needs and desires before your own. Listen more than you talk, showing genuine interest in the person you’re with at that moment.
Don’t let yourself be distracted by the people walking around you still want to meet or digital devices. Don’t worry about conversations you’ve had already or ones you hope to have later.
It is getting rarer and rarer for people to give each other their full attention without being distracted by their phones, if not by something else.
Giving someone your undivided attention is a gift, and those you meet will appreciate you doing so. Keep the reason why you’re there (to network) at the forefront of your mind.
Don’t get sidetracked trying to make sales. That’s not the point, and you will come across as insincere if you try to sell to people you have just met.
This shouldn’t have to be said, but you’re not at a conference or business meeting to find a date or to kick back and have a good time. Always act professionally toward everyone you meet.
Be aware of how your behavior might be perceived — for example, if there is a bar, how would drinking or even not drinking be perceived by others.
Have a Plan
Being comfortable in unfamiliar territory will be much easier if you go into the situation with a plan. Have a reason for choosing that particular venue.
Find out who is likely to be there and know the particular people or companies with whom you want to connect. Make sure you have business cards ready to go as you mingle. It helps to keep your business cards in one pocket or compartment and cards you receive in another.
We all know that meeting people has the potential to be awkward, so plan out some good questions ahead of time. Avoid standard, cliché topics such as asking people what they do. Also avoid contentious topics such as politics, religion, possibly even sports teams.
Another situation you’re likely to find yourself in is being stuck in a conversation that you want to leave. Have a strategy for how to extricate yourself politely. You could say you need to use the bathroom or don’t want to take up too much of the person’s time.
Work to Remember Names
Something else that is a good idea is becoming skilled in remembering the names of people you meet. This is a difficult technique to master when you encounter so many new people at one time. But it is possible and makes people feel valued.
Try repeating their name when you first meet and using it more than once during your conversation. This helps you remember it later. This Forbes post provides ten excellent tips for remembering names and this video shows the method memory expert champion Ron White uses:
If you happen to run into someone more than once and actually remember his or her name, that person will be very impressed. I suspect this is because so many of us struggle to remember names.
You may find, as I did when asked to speak into a TV camera, that it is challenging to look directly into people’s faces. Maybe we look away politely when we meet them — or at least too quickly to go through the memory process suggested by White.
Watch Nonverbal Cues
One tricky aspect of getting to know people is that we often don’t realize how we are coming across to them. This is understandable. It would be exhausting to analyze how we’re subconsciously communicating every second of the day.
But you could have ingrained habits that cause you to consistently send messages you don’t intend. If so, you probably would want someone to tell you in order to help you communicate better. Do you seem:
- warm and approachable?
- distant or unfriendly?
Do you smile at people and make eye contact? How do you stand as you converse with them? It’s easy to assume you’re behaving one way without realizing you simply are not. Self-analysis is beneficial, but it’s invaluable to have a more objective point of view.
Ask your friends, coworkers, and family members how you typically come across to others, especially when you meet people the first time. Make sure you get advice from people who will be honest with you and give you helpful feedback.
The more you can make your nonverbal communication align with what you actually intend to say, the more effective a communicator you will be overall — and the better first impression you will make.
Don’t Feel Doomed
It can be overwhelming to hear that, whether they want to or not, people are judging you as soon as they meet you. The reason we emphasize first impressions so much is that in many business settings, we don’t have the opportunity to let people revise their opinions of us.
But while wrong first impressions take some time to correct, it is possible to change them. We’re not doomed to see each from one point of view forever. There has been less research on the topic of altering first impressions than there has been on making them in the first place.
But in 2015, researchers at Cornell found that, when given new information, people completely changed their minds when they realized their initial opinions were wrong. So don’t overly stress about what others think of you. Just do your best to be as personal and professional as possible.
Image: Gail Gardner