There are many situations in business and life where it’s critical that you make a good first impression. These situations might include:
- Attending a conference and meeting people you may want to start business relationship with in the future
- Meeting a new or potential client or customer
- A job interview, where you’re applying for the job or hiring
- Approaching someone about a business partnership
- Meeting new people at a networking event
What to Say When You Meet New People
When you meet new people, always say your name clearly. Introduce yourself and, if appropriate, mention who you know or how you’re related to the person you’re meeting.
It’s good to prepare an elevator speech you can rattle off when you meet new people. An elevator speech is a short introduction of about 30 seconds, short enough that you could deliver it during an elevator ride. It tells the other person who you are and, in just a few sentences, explains what you do and how you help people.
You should prepare for common questions. Either make a list of the questions people often ask when meeting you, or brainstorm what some of those questions might be. These might be things like how long you’ve been doing what you do, your area of specialty, whether you know key people, certifications you have, and so on. Like your introduction, your answers should be brief but thorough and emphasize the value you offer to others.
When talking about yourself and your abilities, be confident but don’t brag. Don’t make any claims that you can’t back up with something concrete. Instead of trying to impress the other person, simply tell them or demonstrate to them what you do. Be honest about your abilities and focus on results.
What to Do When You Meet New People
Body language is important when you first meet people. We often don’t realize that the way we stand, talk or gesture are communicating things to other people we might not want communicated. In fact, your body starts communicating even before the first word comes out of your mouth. For this reason, it’s important to think about your body language when meeting new people.
As you prepare your introductory speech, you should practice in front of the mirror to look for body language problems, or anything that could be distracting or convey a lack of confidence.
The body language basics are:
- Posture – Stand straight in a natural way with your arms back.
- Facial Expression – Try to maintain a facial expression that is natural, positive, friendly, and enthusiastic
- Handshake – Offer to shake hands and give a firm handshake.
- Eye Contact – Eye contact shows confidence and that you’re paying attention. If it feels strange to look straight into the other person’s eyes, look at the space between their eyes. This makes it look like you’re looking at their eyes but you’re not.
- Smile – Always smile in a natural way. When you smile, you appear nice, trustworthy, and positive. Choose a few pleasant or funny things to think about before you meet someone, so you will put a natural smile on your face.
- Fidgeting – Fidgeting makes you look nervous and it’s distracting, so try your best not to do it. Get into a calm state of mind and try to notice and control these mannerisms.
In addition to managing your own body language, you should watch the other person’s body language as well. They could be giving you important non-verbal clues; for example, they may fidget in an uninterested way, or react to something you said by widening their eyes, which means they’re interested.
What to Wear
Dressing appropriately for business isn’t always about dressing up. It’s about wearing what’s appropriate; in other words, dressing the right way. Wear your best when your best is needed but dress down when it’s appropriate.
We’ll discuss business attire in a later module in more detail, but for now, it’s important to understand that what you wear always says something about you. Your ability to dress appropriately for any occasion is critical part of the first impression you make when meeting someone.
There will be more details later, but in general, take cues from:
- People in your industry
- People in your company
- The occasion at which you’ll be meeting people
Dressing well and paying attention to your clothes shows that you care what impression you make, and this is important. For example, if you choose to dress for comfort rather than business style, this could indicate to people you’re not professional. At least to that industry. Go to whatever lengths are necessary to make a good presentation, even if it means a tie or uncomfortable shoes.
No matter how formal or informal the occasion, good personal grooming is a must. Be meticulous about how you look. If you’re not already fastidious about personal grooming, start paying more attention and take measures to be better about it. If you have coffee breath, this probably isn’t going to cost you a major business deal, but these little details are important, especially for first impressions.
Some things to take care of:
- Hair – Do something with your hair. Make it look like you care, even if you don’t.
- Skin – Watch out for dry skin and use lotion or other skincare if you tend to have it.
- Teeth – Brush your teeth and floss. Check your teeth before meeting someone new so you don’t mar your smile.
- Smells – Make sure you smell nice. It’s okay to use cologne or perfume, but don’t overdo it. Some people have allergies to different colognes or perfumes, so it’s best to avoid it if you’re not sure.
- Breath – Pop a breath mint before you meet someone just to make sure your breath is alright. Refrain from gum unless absolutely necessary due to nervous chewing and “smacking.”
Before meeting new people, you should take a minute to step into the restroom and check everything out. Check your face, hair, and teeth in the mirror and take any necessary measures to freshen up.
Nothing shows your respect or lack thereof like how you handle time. Make sure you arrive at the appointed place a few minutes early. It’s good to shoot for five to ten minutes before the meeting time. For many of us, a few minutes late isn’t “late,” but those few minutes can completely ruin a first impression.
After the Introduction
After a smooth, professional introduction, the next step is to move the conversation along and keep it going. The goal here isn’t necessary to jump right into business, but just to keep talking smoothly and build rapport.
Here are a few things you can do to keep the conversation going:
- Ask the other person questions about what they do. This is great as it puts the focus of the conversation on them and people like to talk about themselves.
- Find and discuss some type of commonality, whether professional or personal, such as where you both come from.
- Make an observation or discuss the event, venue, or surroundings.
- Make an observation about something they’re wearing or that they’ve brought with them.
You might want to prepare some potential icebreakers to keep the conversation going. These could be questions, short stories, or observations that are relevant to the meeting.
Just as important as making a good introduction is knowing when to leave. A quick introduction might be enough. Watch for clues that the conversation is winding up for now. Exchange cards or some other way to keep in touch and make a graceful exit.
Remembering Names and Faces
One of the great challenges of meeting new people is remembering names and faces. This is especially challenging when you’re in a situation where you have to meet a number of people at once.
It’s tough for everyone, but here are some ways you can help yourself remember names and faces:
- Make eye contact with each new person and repeat their name right after hearing it. This is like taking a mental snapshot of the person.
- After meeting, mentally practice their name in your head as you talk to them.
- Don’t put away the person’s business card. Keep it out where you can look at it as you talk to them.
These First Professional Impression Steps are just several helpful suggestions that will keep the chance for a great impression alive. Utilizing them will in no-way guarantee your first impression will be good or even remembered, however not following them will guarantee that you will be remembered……BUT for the wrong reasons.