Business

Making the First Impression Count

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Gurbaksh Chahal
Written by Gurbaksh Chahal

There’s an old saying with which we’re all familiar, and its true: You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

It’s of paramount importance, so, whenever you meet someone for the first time—especially in a business environment—you always put your best foot forward.

Within a matter of seconds of meeting someone I’m beginning to form an opinion of him or her. Is he or she a winner? A rock star or lackluster performer? My mind is computing all manner of aspects…how they dressed, how they behave, what they have to say, how they say it. Is it genuine?Intuitively I size them up and that initial assessment can make all the difference in the world.

Here are some of the attributes I believe you should embrace to make that winning first impression.

Time is of the essence. First of all, don’t be late. If you have an appointment to meet someone just about the worst thing you can do is not be there on time. It shows you have no respect for the value of the other person’s time and sets the tone for the entire working relationship. It raises questions such as: If he can’t be on time for the vital introductory meeting is he going to deliver his products or services on time? Plan to be early. An empty seat is not a good first impression. 

Be prepared. If you’re attending a meeting make sure that you are familiar with the people with whom you’re meeting, their companies, their background, areas of expertise and capabilities. If you’ve done your homework and can talk knowledgably you will be ahead of the game. Knowledge is power.

Keeping up appearances. Even before you open your mouth the person you’re meeting will have formed a split-second judgment of you, solely based on the way your groomed. Dress appropriately and err on the side of dressing conservatively. In today’s business world, particularly in areas like Silicon Valley, the trend has become very casual. But that doesn’t excuse a slovenly, unkempt appearance. In my opinion, being over-dressed is better than wearing a hoodie to an interview.

Look confident. Be friendly. People talk a lot about body language and with good reason. Your posture is an instant give-away. Everyone can tell your attitude at a glance. If you’re standing tall and confident, you obviously have more positive impact than someone who is slouching. Make eye contact. Have a firm (not bone-crunching) handshake. Address the person by name (everyone loves the sound of their own name), but don’t do it ad nauseam.

Smile! This is a no-brainer. Do you think anyone wants to meet someone who looks miserable? Even if you’ve just had bad news or an unhappy experience that’s of no real significance to the individual you’re meeting and the way you will be remembered. Make an effort. People want you to look pleased to be meeting them and not like you’re there under duress. Remember, when you’re smiling the whole world smiles with you!

Don’t hog the conversation. In other words don’t talk too much. Obviously, you always want to let people know that you’re personable and knowledgeable but at the same time never forget that a “conversation” is an exchange of ideas and thoughts between people. People appreciate being allowed to state their views—and even more so if it’s obvious that you really are listening and responding specifically and intelligently.

Don’t get interrupted. Keep your cell phone turned off. It’s rude and off-putting to someone else if you break off that initial encounter to take a call. No matter how big a business you’re running it’s rare that something is so important it can’t wait a few minutes. It sends the signal to the person you’re meeting that he or she is of little consequence to you.

Be passionate. If you don’t seem to care, then the person you’re meeting won’t care. These first few seconds, these first few minutes of a new encounter will never be repeated. So be enthusiastic and make them meaningful.

Be yourself. Don’t be a phony. Don’t exaggerate. Don’t make claims that can’t be substantiated or are overblown. Try to be as natural as you can, even if it’s a nerve-wracking meeting whose outcome is vital to you. At the end of the day it will do you no favors if you’re not the real you. You’ll get caught out soon enough. Be genuine. Be authentic.

This may sound like common sense. It is! But it’s amazing how many people in today’s entrepreneurial world fail to grasp the significance of their initial impression.

As a famous lyric of a song goes, “You only get one chance, one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted. One moment, would you capture it or just let it slip?”

Don’t let it slip. Make it count.

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