The amazing power of first impressions

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I am sure you have seen this before.

Lets’ say you are a PR agency (or any other company looking for new clients). You finally succeeded and scheduled an important meeting with a possible new client. It’s the first time you meet in person, and you want to impress and win the business. You have a great deck, and you have plenty of energy for a memorable presentation.

You finally arrive at their office, enter the meeting room, and tell them that you are excited to meet. You take your seat, hook up the projector to your laptop and start presenting—one hour “to impress.” After a few minutes, panic! The client is disengaged, disconnected. You keep presenting with the feeling that something didn’t go as planned. The meeting ends with smiles and a thank you.

You go back to your office, and you know you will not get the business deep in your heart. “We had great slides, and I thought I was killing it. Though I felt we lost them right at the beginning.” That’s right, the beginning, this is the clue. What happened then?

You made a wrong first impression.

A 2006 study published in Psychological Science reveals that our brain makes snap judgments when meeting new people. In a fraction of a second, the brain scans for trustworthiness, competency, friendliness, and honesty.

Right from the start, your job is to build rapport and convey a positive impression, and dissipate the idea of you being a potential “threat.” In the first minutes, you aim to create a trusted relationship, not impress the client.

Our brains unconsciously scan people’s posture, smile, eye contact, tone of voice, and handshake and decide if we are trustworthy in only a few seconds. Influencing the brain with positive signals that help create rapport will significantly enhance your chances of winning the business.

Think about it. You were probably at your worst when you needed to be at your best! You were likely a little anxious about what was at stake, worried about speaking in front of a client. And it showed! You were stiff, said a weak “hello,” barely made eye contact, did a wrong handshake. All it took to kill your meeting was a bad first minute!

So what can we do to make a strong first impression?

Pay attention to your body language.

If you want to make a “memorable” entrance, you need to be mindful of your body language. Project a positive, trustworthy, and confident (not threatening) body language. You want to appear genuine, open, and warm; build rapport first; then, you can start to amaze.

Take a stable and confident posture, make strong eye contact, put your genuine smile on your face (don’t fake it, though; there is a distinctive wrinkle that appears next to your eyes when you smile genuinely.), and do a proper handshake (don’t crush their hands nor be too soft either). You need to make the best usage of your senses, sight, touch, hear, movement (eye contact, handshake, active listening, use of space)

Be your real self.

Don’t act or pretend to be someone else. You don’t have to play a role. You know yourself better than anyone else, so be your best self, act genuinely and spontaneously. It’s easy to spot people faking it; they don’t appear natural, they seem “scripted,” their cadence is awkward, they don’t connect. We love genuine people; we love how they speak, their stories, and their spontaneity. They are likable and relatable. Be your authentic self from the moment you enter the room.

Search for commonality.

We like people like us! Look for something you may have in common with the person or the group of people you are talking to—nationality, music, sport, passion, friends. Use it as an icebreaker with parsimony, as you don’t want to be overzealous. Before the meeting, you may need to research, ask other people, use social media, and gather some info that can help you find something in common.

Make it about them.

They are the heroes. Focus on them, not you. Connect at a human level, defocus from the pure “logic” of the business; once your client feels connected, understood, and appreciated, they will want to work with you. Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. Use your “senses.” “Feel” is critical to winning people over. Use “you” all the time when talking to them. From the first second, ask questions to make them feel today; it’s all about “them.”

Listen for Real.

Questioning will get you answers. So be prepared to give your undivided attention and refrain from giving “opinions.” Don’t listen to “reply.”When we listen with the real intent of understanding the other person, we connect at a different level. Don’t get distracted; maintain eye contact and nod to signal you are following. Provide feedback about what they are saying to show that you are engaged (“What I hear you say…”) Defer your judgment, don’t interrupt, and be honest and open about your responses. Active listening will make the person feels understood and create a bond with you.

Conclusion.

Making a powerful first impression is critical for winning people over and winning business. You need to be at your best in the first few minutes; this is when your client will shape his perception of you. You need to pay attention to your body language; after all, 93% of our communication is non-verbal. Take a confident posture, get your best smile on your face, make powerful (non-intimidating) eye contact, and practice your handshake. Practice active listening and send clues that you are engaged in the talk (nodding, rephrasing, etc.). All it takes is practice.

So here you go, few tips for you to make an excellent first impression. It’s a broad subject, and I hope this post will give you a few ideas to engage your audience better.

What’s your secret for a great first impression?