They say you only have one chance to make a first impression, and in today’s business world, that first contact is more important than ever.
A study by Princeton researchers Alexander Todorov and Janine Willis shows that all it takes is one-tenth of a second for us to form a first impression of someone we meet and, more importantly, that we don’t usually change those impressions after spending more time with that person. In fact, participants in the study — which included 245 undergraduate volunteers — showed that their initial feelings only got stronger with more time.
When you get the opportunity to meet a potential new client, you know the value of selling yourself is as important as the services you offer. So how can you do better at making that all important first impression? Here are seven tips to get it right.
Steps to make a strong first impression
Be on time
If you’ve been able to set an appointment to meet with a new client, that’s an important first step. Now, make sure you are there at the right time. There really is no excuse that works for being late for a business appointment. Sure we all can get stuck in traffic, miss the train or have sick kids at home, but you need to allow for those occurrences by scheduling in extra time.
Being on time shows the other person that you value his or her time and that you are ready to make an effort in this relationship. Getting there early also gives you time to compose yourself before the meeting.
In the event a real emergency does occur that makes you late, call as soon as you can to explain what has happened and ask if it will still be convenient for you to come later.
Use a handshake
When you meet, offer your hand and a firm handshake. A study by the Income Center for Trade Shows revealed that people are twice as likely to remember you if you shake hands with them. The study also found that people who shake hands are perceived as being friendlier.
In case you are wondering, yes, this goes for women as well as men. Women who offer a firm handshake in greeting are judged as being confident, assertive, and friendly. So, keep your right hand free when you meet someone new and be the first to extend your hand.
“For women who are timid about shaking hands or who feel that handshaking is, traditionally a masculine activity and who might not shake hands as firmly as they otherwise would, the message would be to go ahead and shake the hand firmly,” said Dr. William Chaplin, who led a University of Alabama study on handshakes. “You make a great impression when you do.”
Make eye contact
It may sound like a no-brainer, but along with the handshake needs to come eye contact. When you look directly into someone’s eyes when you meet it shows them that you are interested and open to the upcoming conversation. Here’s a tip to help you make that important eye contact: try noticing the other person’s eye color. If you register that color, you’ve made full eye contact.
Use positive body language
Okay, you’re off to a positive start, now it’s time to keep it going whether you stand or sit. When we first meet someone, non-verbal cues are more important than verbal ones, studies have found. Make sure you sit or stand in an open, receptive position. Guard against folding your arms or crossing your legs. Lean forward slightly. Nod occasionally when the other person is talking. Stand or sit up straight. And smile.
All these seemingly small adjustments show that you are interested, confident and looking for a positive outcome to this new relationship.
Use the other person’s name
We all like to hear our own names. When you use that new acquaintance’s name a few times in that first meeting, it gives them a subliminal boost. The other benefit to using a name is that it helps you learn and remember that name. Here are a few examples:
“Thank you for taking the time to meet with me today, Kate.”
“Well, yes, Kate, I’d be happy to tell you about that program.”
“It was a pleasure talking with you today, Kate.”
Maybe you’ve seen the meme on Facebook that is captioned, “Being polite is so rare these days that it’s often confused with flirting.” It’s so true. We have gotten used to rudeness in our society, but you can make a strong first impression by being polite and courteous. Watch your language (avoiding slang and any offensive terms), dress appropriately for the occasion, say please and thank you.
Showing good manners does make a difference. Your courtesy shows you are someone who is trustworthy and capable — and just plain nice.
Be careful to listen more than you talk on a first meeting. People love to talk about themselves, so give them the opportunity. In his book The Pursuit of Attention: Power and Ego in Everyday Life, sociologist Charles Derber calls talking about ourselves too much a form of “conversational narcissism,” so don’t fall into that trap.
Do your homework to find out if the other person has any hobbies or special interests. Let’s say you find out the company donates regularly to a certain charitable organization. Ask about the next fundraiser. Or, maybe you know the other person enjoys golf. Ask him about his last game.
Use these steps as a guide to making your first impression one that serves you well. Combine them with your own instincts and personality, and make those first seconds count.
Derber, Charles. The Pursuit of Attention: Power and Ego in Everyday Life, Oxford University Press, edition, 2000.