Everyone seems to know how important first impressions are yet it’s amazing how little thought is given to these first impressions.
Let’s start by looking at when a first impression occurs. You might think the first impression occurs the very first time you meet someone but the reality is, it might occur before that or it might occur after that.
You might wonder how a first impression could occur before actually meeting a person. If there is a phone conversation or an email exchange the first impression might be created from that. Or, the first impression might come from someone else. For example, a recommendation from someone else might give someone a good first impression of you before them ever seeing or hearing you. Likewise, a person might hear something bad about you and therefore have a bad first impression before meeting you.
While the early impression might be easy to understand, there is also the delayed first impression. In this case, you might meet a person and simply make no impression on them at all. An example is at a party with a lot of people, you might be introduced to someone and then a few days later, you meet them again and they have no recollection of the initial meeting. While some might say this was a bad first impression, I think of it more as no impression at all.
There are many ways to help your first impression be a positive one. First, be prepared. If it’s the type of meeting where you might want to have some follow up, have something with you to provide contact information. A simple business card might suffice. While a standard business card might have a company name, your name and contact info, is there anything on it that would make it stand out to help with a positive first impression? Would a bit of color add to the appearance? How about a catchy slogan that reminds them of you? I use a business card that does the exact opposite. It’s very simple, very clean and the design is somewhat distinctive but the thing that makes it standout is the fact it has my name, web site and contact information but nothing else. People tend to take a second look at it because they expect there to be something else (such as company name or logo etc). By doing something a bit different, it stands out in it’s own way.
Recently I sat through two presentations by IT companies for a company I do some consulting for. One company came in with an assessment put together in a manner similar to what a high school student would use for a school report. The other company came with their assessment bound similar to a hard cover book. Their company name was embossed in the cover and it was very professionally done. Even before looking at the content of the assessments, one company had made a much stronger impression than the other.
When you are first introduced to a person, introduce yourself, shake their hand, repeat their name and look them in the eye. For example, if someone approaches me and says “hi my name is Bob Smith” I would extend my hand, look him in the eye and respond “Hi Bob Smith, my name is Lawrence Fine” or something similar. The idea is by extending the hand for a handshake, it makes personal contact with the person which is important for a positive first impression. Repeating the persons name back to them let’s them know you are paying attention and care enough to have listened to their name. Also, it’s helpful to you for trying to remember their name in the future. The eye contact is vital because it helps make the connection with the person and helps establish the true person to person involvement.
When possible, you want to control your appearance for the first impression. This isn’t always possible, for example, you might meet someone at the end of a long run so you will be tired and sweaty, but whenever possibly, you want to have control of your appearance for first impressions. It’s not good enough to say “you should dress nicely” because what is appropriate in a social setting might be very different than what is appropriate in a business setting. The key is to know what is appropriate in a given setting and dress accordingly. If you are too formal for a given setting, that might influence someones impression of you but at the same time, if you are too informal, it might influence things just the same. Some people might want to stand out in a crowd but make sure if you do, you stand out for the right reasons.
Since you can only make a first impression one time, make it a positive one, then follow up and see where it takes you!