We all want to make a good impression when meeting someone new. Much of a first impression is made within seconds– about seven to be exact, though some researchers think it may be even less! Given the short time frame, first impressions are typically made on appearance and body language alone. That said, over the course of a conversation it is possible to change an opinion. Putting our best effort forward helps to ensure a great first impression.
Remember the “Three V’s”
When we meet someone, we are evaluated by the “Three V’s:”
- Verbal (what you say)
- Vocal (how you sound)
- Visual (how you look and communicate non-verbally)
Visual (How You Look)
Dress for your Personal Brand
When developing your personal brand, think about how you would like people to perceive you. Take into consideration the type of industry you operate in when determining your personal brand. A professional career (law, accounting, wealth management) will be more formal. A creative career (advertising, PR, entertainment) will allow for more fashion-oriented choices.
If you are attending an event with a dress code, take care to adhere to it closely to ensure good first impressions. Adjust your dress choices based on season, weather, and time of day. For example, if you are attending a daytime event, shoes such as high stilettos are not appropriate. If you are attending a black tie party in winter, you will want to opt for darker shades and heavier fabrics– a breezy summer gown is not the right choice.
Lastly, your iron, steamer, and tailor are your best friends when it comes to looking polished and poised.
When at a social gathering, you will want to appear approachable and engaging.
- Stand up straight with shoulders back.
- Aim for calm, intentional steps so you do not appear nervous or rushed.
- Keep your right hand available for handshakes.
- Engage others with a warm smile.
- Maintain appropriate physical distance.
- Feet should be no more than hip distance apart.
During conversation, be sure to maintain eye contact. Eye contact is a crucial non-verbal communication tool that conveys confidence and respect. If you find maintaining eye contact too intense, you can shift your gaze to the center of the person’s brow for a brief break.
If you are meeting someone for the first time while outside, remove your sunglasses.
Body Language to Avoid
- Do not look around the room when in conversation with someone. Avoid fidgeting, scratching, playing with your hair, or tapping.
- Avoid placing hands in pockets or crossing your arms. Keep your hands visible and arms open so your disposition is welcoming, rather than disinterested or “closed off.”
- If you are near a table or wall, do not lean as this can seem as if you are bored or tired.
- Never point with your finger, instead gesture with the whole hand.
- If seated, do not cross your legs as this has a similar effect to crossed arms.
Tips for a Proper Handshake
- Keep it brief.
- Make eye contact.
- Use firm pressure without squeezing.
- Aim for the web of the hand.
- Always stand when shaking someone’s hand as a sign of respect.
- Avoid shaking hands across your desk.
- Mirror the other person’s handshake.
- Start and end conversations gracefully with a handshake.
Entering a Room
When entering a room, slow down and take your time– have you ever seen an elegant person rush into a space? Take a breath, adjust your posture, and walk calmly with your head held high.
Vocal (How You Sound)
How we sound affects how we are perceived. If you are quiet and difficult to hear, you may be perceived as less confident. If you are loud, you may be perceived as aggressive or arrogant.
Mind your vocal volume and tailor it to the space you are in. Avoid vocal fry and upspeak. Aim to speak clearly and distinctly in your natural voice to convey confidence and make a great first impression.
Verbal (What You Say)
When introducing yourself, you will want to give your first and last name. In a business setting, include the name of the company you work for, or your own company if you are self-employed.
When meeting new people, it is important to remember their name to the best of your ability. Try repeating their name immediately, “it is so nice to meet you Catherine,” and again in conversation to create a strong mental association. Using a person’s name creates positive associations of respect and recognition. Just do not overdo it as this has an inverse effect.
- Practice your listening skills. A great conversation involves give and take. Try to listen as much as you talk.
- Ask open-ended questions. These are conversation openers because they cannot be replied to in one-word answers and allow for discussion.
- Aim to keep the conversation upbeat and positive, avoiding controversial topics such as religion and politics is a must when meeting someone new.
- Never gossip. As the saying goes, “what Suzy says of Sally says more of Suzy than of Sally.” Gossip is unkind and we should always aim to move through the world with kindness, courtesy, and respect.
- When in a large social setting, try not to monopolize a person’s time. Have your conversation but take care to end it at a reasonable time so they may interact with other guests.
Quick Tips for Networking and Social Events
- Mind your alcohol consumption.
- At a networking event, wear your name badge on the right side as an extension of your handshake.
- Hold your glass in your left hand so your right hand is available for handshakes.
- Have a bite to eat or a cocktail, but not both at the same time so that you always have a hand available for introductions.
- Do not talk with food in your mouth.
- Never gossip.
- Respect the personal space of others.
- It is always a good idea to carry breath mints.
- Introduce yourself to people who appear to be on their own and to people you do not know.
A Note on Digital First Impressions
First impressions can happen digitally, too. How you present yourself online could inform how others perceive you before you have ever met in person. What does your digital presence say about you?
- Choose a professional and warm profile photo. Consider investing in professional headshots or branding photography.
- Be consistent across your various channels and ensure your information is up-to-date.
- Use secure passwords to protect from potential reputation-harming phishing.
- Never share articles or content which you have not read in their entirety and take care to vet the sources for legitimacy. The conclusion of an article could be very different from the headline or introductory text, you could share something that does not reflect well on you or accurately reflect your opinions.
- If you would not want your boss or colleagues to see your posts, keep your profile private. However, remember that regardless of your privacy settings, anything you post can be saved or documented without your consent. Exercise discretion.
- Sassy memes or cheesy quotes are not appropriate for the profile of a public-facing executive.