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How to Make a Good First Impression Without Saying a Word
The old saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
Whether you’re meeting an executive for a job interview, a potential client or customer, or a new supervisor just hired at your company, how you come across that first time will shape how the person responds to you in this meeting and how that person perceives you in future encounters.
Like it or not, first impressions frame you in the eyes and mind of others. So, ensuring that you make the most favorable impression that first time is very important. It could make or break your business or job prospects with that person.
In most business situations, the other person has choices. Potential hirers or customers are looking for reasons to narrow their list of prospects, not expand it. They’re on the buyer’s side, not the seller’s, so they ultimately have to decide on one job candidate, one supplier of a certain product or service, one person who’ll manage their account. What you say verbally certainly counts. But so does what you “say” nonverbally.
The three main things to be aware of as you approach a first meeting in professional or career-oriented situations involve your appearance, your nonverbal facial communication, and your body language.
Your goal: To come across as friendly, confident, and capable.
Look Like Someone They’d Want to Work With
When you go on a sales call, a marketing pitch, or a job interview, how you look speaks volumes — before you even get to shake hands or say a word.
You want to look like somebody the job interviewer, potential client, or potential customer can feel comfortable with and place confidence in. Both men and women should attend to personal hygiene and cleanliness, get hair trimmed a few days before the big meeting, comb or brush their hair, and dress a cut above what you’d wear at this particular workplace if you worked there.
A rule of thumb is to wear something that makes you look put together for the position of the person you’re meeting. That means asking yourself how the executive you’re meeting with would dress for an outside business meeting or for corporate big-wigs coming into this office for a major meeting.
If you’re going to a business office, dress conservatively. A dark suit for men with a white pressed shirt and subdued colored or patterned tie is a good bet. Shine your dress shoes and wear solid black or navy socks that match your suit. Belt and dress shoes should match each other. Pleated pants shouldn’t be baggy.
For women, a dress, a business-cut suit, or a solid or pinstriped dark or khaki colored skirt with a white or blue blouse and jacket gives a nice, sharp appearance. Hose and heels look professional; bare legs, flip-flops, or sneakers don’t. Clothes should look tailored and not be too tight or revealing.
Like the “less is more” concept, stand out by not standing out in a not-so-good way. If you have a tattoo that’s noticeable, a pierced nose, hair colored some unnatural shade, or some other feature that you wouldn’t see on a model in a Ralph Lauren catalog, it’s to your advantage to cover or camouflage it. You want the other person to think you’re serious about the job or your business — not have their eyes drawn to some unusual feature that costs you credibility points from the first instant.
Your Face Should Say, “I’m Friendly and Assured”
To establish rapport and trust from the outset, your facial expression plays a critical part. The two main aspects here are eye contact and a smile.
You may feel some fear or apprehension, even shyness or lack of self-confidence on the inside. But resolve to overcome this feeling (like the soldier on the battlefield who resolves to go help a buddy in need, despite the danger) and you’ll be fine. And chances are the other person will never know.
First, make eye contact. Look the person with whom you’re meeting in the eye and sustain that eye contact during those crucial first few moments. As a rule of thumb, hold that first eye contact through the handshake and words of introduction and greeting.
During the meeting, it’s okay to look away, perhaps as you take notes. But don’t fail to come back to sustained eye contact throughout the meeting.
Second, smile. Open your lips and let teeth show. Give the other person a genuine smile. This affects how your whole face looks. A smiling, pleasant face invites comfortable conversation, even in the context of a business meeting.
Not smiling upon first meeting works against you. It makes it more challenging to trust you if you scowl or even exhibit no facial expression (which comes across in any number of ways, none of which is flattering or helpful to your purpose).
Looking the other person in the eye and smiling communicate that you’re friendly, self-assured, and yet don’t diminish your professionalism.
Your Body Language Should Be Positive, Too
Even if you dress appropriately, sustain eye contact, and smile, your body language should send a message consistent with these other elements of nonverbal communication.
Shake hands firmly and confidently. (That goes for the initial handshake and the handshake when the meeting is ending.)
Stand up straight, using good posture. Stand flat on both feet. Let your arms hang at your sides, relaxed. Maintain an open posture.
Nervous energy can work against you. So, don’t fiddle with your hands or fingers. Don’t jam both hands in your pockets. Don’t cross your arms or turn away from the person you’re meeting with. Don’t slouch.
Putting It All Together
To take advantage of that one-time-only opportunity to make a positive first impression, keep these pointers in mind.
Dress sharp and be sure you look put together, professional, and appropriate.
Look the other person in the eye and smile a genuine smile.
Open up your body language and control any nervous energy.
The combination of these ways of communicating nonverbally will affect how the first meeting and any subsequent meetings go. It really boils down to showing respect to the person you’re meeting and his or her position.
Attire, facial expression, and body language each and together influence how other people perceive you and how much they trust you. Make sure they’re arrows in your quiver, not self-inflicted wound makers.