You never get a second chance to make a first impression – Will Rogers
We all know the importance of first impressions, but do you know that it can take 20 further interactions with a stakeholder to change the first impression? I don’t know about you, but getting in front of a key person once can take weeks, sometimes months.
As the business world demands we do more with less and deliver against tighter deadlines, accessibility is diminishing, and creating immediate positive impact is critical.
Research conducted at Harvard Business School states it takes somewhere between 3-7 seconds for the average person to analyze and determine a person’s credibility and likeability. In a lot of cases you haven’t even spoken yet, and if you have, at this stage people aren’t listening to what you are saying, they are looking for how you are saying it – tone, annunciation, projection. Do you sound confident and credible?
I would highly recommend making time to audit how people perceive you and ensure your first impression has the impact you want to aid in fast-tracking relationships, influence and buy-in.
Remove the hurdles to a powerful first impression.
- Door-jam moment: Walk into a room like you own it – head up, shoulders squared, chest out, items stacked neatly and hand ready for greeting. When you walk through a door-jam, be prompted to realign your posture for a confident arrival.
- Handshake: Firm but not bone-crushing while looking someone in the eye. I have heard of deals lost because one party’s limp handshake and naval-gazing eyes screamed ‘unconfined’ and ‘weak’. Always keep culture etiquette in mind but on average, go firm or go home!
- Smile: Simple. Impactful. Welcoming.
- Gestures: Keep them contained for a sense of control and calm. Also, be mindful of not ‘blocking’ someone with crossed arms (no matter how cold the aircon is!) or crossing a leg at the knees. Remain open arm, head titled forward and attentive.
- Style: Dress for the role you want and for the situation. Make sure your clothes fit and say, “I’ve seen my reflection and am ready to slay the day”. Add colour for vibrancy and to stand out. Don’t forget to revise the shine on your shoes and the state of your nails – are you saying “I’m polished with an eye for detail” or “I’m unable to manage my time, look after my health, or take note of the small things”? It might also be worth checking your WhatsApp photo if you use it for work and your other social media images. Does your style shine through and provide a positive first impression?
- Accessories: If it’s on you or you are holding it, it’s an accessory. Everything from the pen you own, to the slogan on your coffee mug, the type of phone you use (especially if your brand is about technology), to the dog-eared notebook covered in scribbles. Think about the entire impression you’re making and take small steps that can lead to significant perception changes.
- Environs: A desk covered in stuffed toys is as debilitating as a desk that looks like a bomb has gone off under it. Likewise, a picture of your partner in bikini or man-kini might not be the impression you want to project. Do you want people to have a narrative for you that involves words like ‘quirky’ or ‘disorganized’?
- Think, then speak: Talking in a stream of consciousness leads to verbal diarrhoea, uncomprehensive monologues and disengagement. Do your preparation, be clear about your key messages and tailor the news to the level of the audience. What does your voicemail message sound like? First impressions often happen before we get a chance to meet in person.
- Dial-up your volume and projection: Confident people want the world to hear what they are saying. They don’t mumble, they articulate and speak at a cadence that allows everyone to go on the storytelling journey with them.
- Grammarly (or an App like it): If spelling and grammar is not your strong suite, find an App that critiques your writing and enables you to project a professional persona through words. Many first impressions happen in an email, blog post or post. Do not get robbed of opportunity because you don’t know where the comma should go!
- Bitter or Better: Some days are tougher than others. The question is, are you standing by the coffee machine moaning about it, or are you finding positive news to share? Do you talk down about your boss for a disappointing end of year review or do you focus on what’s in your control to change that number next year? How you show up in the tough times says a lot about your resiliency and mindset. Do you want to be seen as being bitter or better?
There are so many ways in which we can create a powerful first impression with a little awareness and forethought. Make some small tweaks today and amplify your success immediately.