Did you know that it only takes a tenth of a second to make a first impression? So when you meet someone for the first time, you need to be on your game from the very beginning — but do you know exactly how to make a good first impression?
Whether you're meeting new connections, team members, potential employers, or customers, here is alist of tips to help you put your best foot forward and make a great first impression.
Actor Billy Porter said it in his book Unprotected: A Memoir, "Fifteen minutes early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable."
Arriving a little early for a meeting shows your punctuality and gives you a little more time to ensure everything is in place. If you're giving a presentation, arriving early gives you a moment to test the equipment you're using. If you're early to a job interview, you'll have time to go over your elevator pitch to yourself, adjust your tie, or make sure your hair isn't out of place.
2. Be Empathetic.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the same feelings as another person. It can help you come across as personable when it comes to first impressions. Of course, you want to be professional and not cross boundaries. However, showing that you understand the person or group you're speaking to and that what they're saying resonates with you will help you form a genuine connection.
To show empathy, ask questions with genuine curiosity and listen to understand — not just respond. And make a point to stay focused and engaged in the interaction.
3. Actively listen.
Most people don't like repeating themselves or answering the same question multiple times — it makes them feel like they aren't being listened to. You don't want your first impression to be that you're an inattentive listener, so practice active listening.
Active listening is giving the speaker your undivided attention and paying attention to what's said and the intention behind it. Listen for opportunities to ask questions pertaining to the discussion. Asking the right questions shows you're engaged — just don't ask something the speaker already answered.
4. Be mindful of your body language and posture.
When you're meeting someone for the first time, keep your posture open — don’t tightly cross your arms or legs, ball your hands into fists, or hunch over in your seat. Lean in when you talk to show you're actively listening and tuned into the conversation. Don’t be afraid to take up some space at the table. If you usually use hand gestures or move around to communicate, don't hold back. You don't want to appear stiff and uncomfortable.
These nonverbal cues can make a powerful subconscious impact, so be aware of your body language and posture during meetings in general — particularly during initial pitches or interviews.
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). Some body language habits can suggest dishonesty, such as avoiding eye contact and touching your mouth, so avoid those habits as well.
5. 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.According to the Corporate Finance Institute, job interviewers may get the impression that a candidate is insecure or unsure of themselves if they speak with an upward inflection. This is because upward inflections make sentences sound more like questions than statements.
Not sure if you're guilty of this? Try practicing your presentations or recording yourself reading aloud. You’d be surprised at how different you sound to others versus in your own head.
Be sure to speak clearly and at a steady pace (not too fast and not too slow), and avoid filler words such as “um," “ah," and “like" because those words show hesitation. Try practicing not relying on filler words in front of a camera to train yourself.
6. 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, ultimately making them more willing to work with you.
For instance, let’s look at many marketers' favorite show: Mad Men. Some of Don Draper’s best pitches (e.g., Carousel and Lucky Strike) were full of positive language. That said, positive language doesn’t need to be cheesy or trendy, as Draper illustrates. Instead, positive language can uplift your audience by simply being clear and straightforward.
This point is especially valuable if you're making a first impression in a job interview. You want potential employers to find you positive, flexible, and capable, so use language that reflects optimism and agency instead of negativity.
7. Dress the part.
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 essential 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.
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.
Focus on the person or people you are speaking with. It's hard to connect with someone when you're looking down at a screen, so try to make eye contact with everyone in the room.
However, keep in mind that if some 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. This can make maintaining eye contact difficult, but if you speak clearly, concisely, and appear confident — you should eventually be able to gain your audience's attention enough to shift their focus to your eyes.
9. Know your audience.
Do your research. If your meeting is planned in advance, you should know plenty about the person or business you're meeting with before arriving. Google the people you’ll meet, the company founders/co-founders, their history, their competition, their main products, and any other relevant information before you walk into the room.
To gather the background information you need, check the company's website or the LinkedIn profile of whoever you plan on speaking to. Some companies and organizations have Wikipedia pages as well. I know there has always been debate over Wikipedia's reliability, but scrolling down to the "Reference" section of a Wikipedia article will take you to different articles, videos, and other sources of information to draw from.
10. Come prepared.
There's nothing worse than an unproductive meeting. To make a great first impression, respect everyone’s time. If you're meeting with someone working remotely, plan accordingly. Is your laptop WiFi reliable? Is your device (phone, computer, etc.) charged and working correctly? Did you test your web camera if you're using one?
The last thing you want is for a meeting or interview to run long because you spent half the time fixing an awkward mishap. 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 key to building an engaged group of clients or colleagues. Plus, it shows respect for their schedules.
11. Be authentic.
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 into your weaknesses shows that you are self-aware.
However, don't over-emphasize your shortcomings, either. It might seem shockingly simple, but over-highlighting weaknesses and how you might fix them could cause you to focus on the negatives — making them the most significant 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 your good qualities — especially at the beginning of a business relationship.
12. Put your phone away.
That goes for tablets, laptops, and other electronics, too. It's one thing to use technology to deliver a presentation, but if they're not needed — turn off sounds and vibrations on your mobile devices and put your screens away. Give your complete and undivided attention to the people you're meeting for the first time to convey your commitment, focus, and good manners.
13. Make a connection.
Pay close attention to who you're meeting with for the first time and try to forge a connection based on what they share with you. Whether it's their alma mater or their hometown, developing a connection outside the professional conversation can be a great way to build rapport.
Just don't be too forward. Avoid making comments about their appearance that could be perceived as inappropriate, and stick to connections you might have in common. Those are more genuine than compliments, anyway.
14. Don't forget to follow up.
After an initial meeting, don't forget to follow up by sending any necessary information such as notes, presentation docs, next steps, or a simple thank you email.
These small gestures will help prove that you're serious about the connections made and the information shared 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. It also allows you to clear up any misunderstandings or expand upon points you made in the initial meeting.
Don't let a negative first impression get in the way of your ability to get to know someone. Follow these 14 tips to ensure that the first time you meet with someone won't be the last.
Now, learn how to shoot a new professional headshot that makes an excellent first impression before you even meet your colleagues.
Originally published Sep 21, 2022 7:00:00 AM, updated September 21 2022