First impressions count. But it’s easy to underestimate just how important that first impression really is.
When meeting a new person, it takes us less than three seconds to make a judgment about that person.
It’s not a conscious decision, but an immediate and intuitive response. Once this impression is made, it is anchored and the person will seek to reinforce it, acknowledging behaviour that reaffirms the first impression and ignoring behaviour that doesn’t.
Once a first impression is made, it’s almost impossible to change.
This highlights the importance of always making a good first impression when meeting a prospective client as your demeanour will shape the success of any future interactions. A first impression can shape the future success of a business relationship.
Here are my top five tips for creating a great first impression when meeting a new person, whether they are client or coworker:
1. “Smile and the world smiles with you”
The clue is in the saying!
Scientist Andrew Newberg states that a smile “is the symbol rated with the highest positive emotional content”.
A smile is one of the most important actions you can do when meeting a client or journalist, as people are programmed to mimic a smile, which then stimulates a positive reaction in their brain. A genuine smile will therefore help to promote a positive first impression. In saying that, make sure it is a genuine smile rather than insincere or smarmy (think used car salesman), or a manic grin (think Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining’), which will have the opposite effect!
2. “A picture paints a thousand words”
And so does your appearance.
Your client will make a split second judgment about you at your first meeting, assessing your trustworthiness, competence, likeability, attractiveness and aggressiveness. This means that their judgment is wholly based on your appearance and body language.
It is very important to dress appropriately for a client meeting – your appearance needs to reflect the impression that you wish to give your client about you and your company. This doesn’t mean that you can’t be an individual. It means that you need to taper your individuality to fit within the context. For example, if you like bright colours, express this with shoes or accessories rather than with your hair colour!
3. “I speak two languages: body and english”
Body language is key in forming a good first impression.
The way you look, listen and move tells your client if you are being truthful with what you say. When your body language matches your speech it reinforces trust and rapport with your client and they should reciprocate.
When creating a good first impression, your body language should be open, no crossing of arms, as this will help put the other person at ease and show you are not aggressive. Along with a smile, make eye contact and ensure that your posture is tall, confident and accessible. When first meeting a client, a firm handshake combined with a smile and eye contact will help to build trust.
4. “You reap what you sow”
Show an interest in your client to help put them at ease.
Engage in easy small talk, such as how their weekend was, their journey to the meeting or the location of the meeting. A great way to break the ice is to compliment them, as a bit of flattery can go a long way! Ensure that you give them your undivided attention and listen to their responses and reply accordingly. This will help to cement a lasting good first impression.
5. “The early bird catches the worm”
Punctuality is a sign of respect and shows that you think meeting the other person is important to you. Make sure that you check maps and road/train journey times in advance of the meeting, to ensure that you leave enough time. Also take into consideration possible transport delays or taking a wrong turning if it is a place you are unfamiliar with. If there is even a slight possibility that you will be late, always ensure that you call ahead to let them know.
It may also help to ask trusted friends and colleagues to give you constructive feedback on their first impressions of you. This will allow you to see yourself through an impartial eye, which will help you to decide which of the above tips you need to focus on more consciously.
One last point is to remember to adapt your behaviour to the context of the situation, as you don’t want to be cheerful and positive if the situation requires you to be sympathetic!