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Where Marketers Go to Grow

March 24, 2016 // 6:00 AM

How to Make a Great First Impression: 9 Tips to Try

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Did you know that it only takes a tenth of a second to make a first impression?

In other words, when you meet someone for the first time, you need to be on your game from the very beginning. This includes being aware of everything from the words you choose to the body language you convey.

Whether you're meeting new connections, team members, potential employers, or customers, I've put together a list of tips designed to help you put your best foot forward and make a killer first impression.

9 Tips for Making a Great First Impression

1) Pay attention to your body language and posture.

Effective body language goes beyond simply standing up straight and having a firm handshake -- although those things are definitely important, too. When you're meeting someone for the first time, keep an open posture (don’t tightly cross your arms or legs), lean in when you talk, and don’t be afraid to take up some space at the table. These nonverbal cues can make a powerful subconscious impact, so be aware of your body language and posture during meetings in general, but particularly initial pitches or interviews. 

What behaviors should you aim to avoid? It's smart to refrain from tapping, touching your face too often, placing objects in front of yourself, blinking excessively, and sitting or standing too close to others (respect the bubble, people). (Read this post to learn more about body language.)

2) Modulate your pitch and tone of voice.

A high-pitched tone of voice can make you seem childish or nervous -- especially if you tend to “uptalk” or use a rising inflection at the end of your sentences. In fact, it has been shown that people perceive those who have a rising intonation as less knowledgeable, no matter what they are actually saying.

Not sure if you're guilty of this? Try practicing your presentations or simply reading aloud into an audio app with playback. You’d be surprised at how different you sound to others versus in your own head.

On the other hand, faster speakers are considered to be more confident, according to a study performed at Brigham Young University. However, even if you're talking fast, be sure to avoid using filler words such as “um," “ah," “like," and other similar phrases whenever possible, as it shows hesitation.

3) Choose your words wisely.

Words matter even more than you think. Positive and persuasive words and phrases will often open doors and make people feel comfortable in your presence, which can ultimately make them more willing to work with you.

For instance, let’s take a look at many marketers' favorite show: Mad Men. Some of Don Draper’s best pitches (e.g., Carousel & Lucky Strike) were full of positive language. That said, positive language doesn’t need to be cheesy or new-agey as Draper illustrates. Instead, positive language can be used to uplift your audience by simply being clear and simple. 

4) Put some thought into your appearance.

Regardless of how little you personally care about fashion or style, what you wear matters. While you want to look clean and neat, it's also important to match or slightly exceed the relative level of formality of the person or business you are meeting with -- whether that is business formal, highly casual, or something in between.

"You are your brand, especially if you are a business owner, so making sure that your look communicates your best self is important," explains Laurel Mintz, CEO of Elevate My Brand.

If you want to show off your personality, try including one accessory that could be considered a memorable item or even a conversation piece. This could be anything from a unique piece of jewelry to a fancy tie to a pair of fun socks.

5) Make eye contact.

Turn off your phone (or at least mute it), turn off email and instant message alerts on your computer, don’t doodle, and most importantly, focus on the person or people you are speaking with. It's hard to get to know someone when you're looking down at a screen, so make an effort to make some eye contact with everyone in the room.

However, keep in mind that eye contact can also backfire, according to a study by the University of British Columbia. If people aren’t already persuaded or inclined to be on your side, they may focus more on your mouth or any presentation materials you’re showcasing instead of your eyes, making attempts at eye contact a challenge. 

6) Know your audience.

Do your research. If your meeting is planned in advance, you should know plenty about the person or business that you're meeting with before you arrive. This might mean that you Google the people you’ll be meeting with, the company founders/co-founders, their history, their competition, their main products, and any other relevant info before you walk into the room.

Looking for a helpful tool to help you gather some background information? Check out Charlie App. This app scans hundreds of sources to uncover information about the person you're meeting with and sends you a one-pager with all the details. Pretty cool, right?

7) Come prepared.

There's nothing worse than an unproductive meeting. To make a great first impression, be sure that you're respectful of everyone’s time. If you're meeting with someone working remotely, plan accordingly. (Read this post for 12 helpful tips for better remote meetings.)

That said, if you’re being productive and everyone has the bandwidth, it might be okay if the meeting runs long -- just make sure you check in with the group before making the call.

Meeting time management is a key aspect of building an engaged group of clients or colleagues. Plus, it shows respect for their schedules.

8) Don't try to be someone you're not.

When you're meeting someone for the first time, don't try to be someone you're not. If you don't know the answer to something they ask, don't fake it.  The ability to lean in to your weaknesses shows that you are self-aware.

However, be sure not to over emphasize your shortcomings. It might be seem shockingly simple, but avoiding the “report card problem” or highlighting weaknesses and how you might fix them could cause you to only showcase the negatives, or at least make them the biggest part of your overall impression. While you don’t want to hide any weaknesses (people will likely figure it out anyways), you do want to be honest and move on to the good stuff -- especially at the beginning of a business relationship.

9) Don't forget to follow up.

After an initial meeting, don't forget to follow up by sending any necessary information -- notes, presentation docs, next steps, and so on -- or sending a thank you note.

These small gestures will help prove that you're on the ball, and that you're making them a priority, rather than just another task to check off your to-do list.

Sending out updated information after a meeting can also be a way to get a second chance at a first impression. How so? It helps to show another side of you or your business -- perhaps a more responsible side. In fact, a Stanford study revealed that adding more external factors can actually mitigate the effect of a negative first impression.

Don't let a negative first impression get in the way of your ability to get to know someone. Follow these nine tips to ensure that the first time you meet with someone won't be the last.

What are your best tips for making a great first impression? Share them below.

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