How To Create A Powerful First Impression

You’ve heard it a hundred (if not a thousand) times: You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Yeah, yeah, yeah… So, is this going to be another one of those articles?

Well, no, but I’ll have to admit, there is truth about the whole first impression thing…

It turns out, psychologically, that peoples’ impressions of things – people, food, whatever – are truly most influenced by their first exposure to them. These first exposures set the initial state by which we compare any future exposures.

So, while first impressions can be overcome, they are very important since they carry the most weight.

And if you’re giving a presentation or trying to make a sale, you’ve only got one chance to get off on the right foot. So controlling the first impression is very important.

Knowing this, here are several things that you can do to create a powerful first impression.

Be Prompt

People’s time is important to them, so don’t start off your first interaction with these people by wasting it. If you have an appointment set for a particular time, arrive at that time. Now you can arrive early, but if you do arrive early, it’s even better to hang out for a little bit, and arrive on time.

If you schedule a time to speak with someone at, say, 3 PM, you’ve made a mini-contract with that person to set time aside at that very time.

Coming early is better than coming late, but arriving on time is absolutely the best. Being prompt means that you keep your word and honor your commitments, and that goes a long way to making a great first impression.

You want to communicate that you are valuing the other person, and you do that by valuing their time. Being prompt is critical in making good first impressions, so manage your time (and their time) wisely.

Be Positive and Smile

In general, people like being around people who are positive. So, if you want someone to have a good impression of you, it’s in your best interest to have them think you are a positive person.

That means smiling and having a positive attitude or take on items that come up in conversation. This doesn’t mean that you can’t present a critical assessment of something that is mentioned, but don’t be negative about it.

Again, people make quick judgments based upon things based upon their experiences. If you’ve know someone for a long time and you know that they are a positive person, that one time that you hear them complain or be negative won’t really change your opinion.

However, if that one time was the only experience by which to judge them, you’d jump to the conclusion that overall he or she is a negative person. Don’t let this generalization happen to you — be positive and smile in your first meeting.

Be Courteous and Attentive, and Be a Good Listener

People also love when others treat them as the center of attention. So if you want someone to think highly of you, be a good listener. Without saying a word, you are sending a message that the other person is important — important enough to listen to what they are saying.

Back in my days in working with radar technology (sorry to go all “geek” on you…), we would recognize that radars had two modes of operation, “transmit” and “receive”. As you might guess, “transmit” is when the radar is sending energy out, and “receive” is when the radar is “listening” for energy that’s coming back.

Well, I knew and worked with people that were always on “transmit”. They couldn’t stop sending out what they thought, and would never go on “receive”. It drove people (and me) absolutely nuts, because the impression was that they didn’t care what I thought — they didn’t bother to listen to me.

In your first meeting with people, don’t be on “transmit”, be on “receive”. Listening is one of the most important things to do when meeting people for the first time. In fact, you’d be surprised how much more highly someone would think of you the LESS you speak.

Be Careful with Humor

You might be a funny person, but be careful with using humor in your first interaction with people. It’s best to be professional — you can figure out how to inject humor into your conversations later.

Humor is always good to break down barriers and make people feel more comfortable with you, but you can’t be sure what are things that the other person might find humorous until you get to know them.

Trying to make light of something without knowing the other person (their background, what they’ve been going through, etc.) can backfire if you’re not careful, which isn’t what you want in making a first impression.

Again, humor can work well in subsequent meetings with people, but in your first one, focus on making a great first impression. And you can do that by being careful with using humor right away.

Use the Name of the Other Person Frequently

It’s been said that the single greatest word that another person likes to hear is their own name.

It does work some sort of magic when you use a person’s name with them in conversation. It conveys an impression of an intimate working relationship, like you’ve been working with them for months or years.

It also conveys an impression that you care enough about the other person to call them by their name. You can have the same conversation with someone and never use their name. However, it would have a colder, more distant feeling to it than if you injected their name into the conversation a few times.

Of course, don’t overdo it, but using their name brings the other person into the conversation more deeply. It really works, and it can enhance the power of your first impressions greatly.

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I currently serve as Vice President of Decision Science at CenturyLink. I've previously served as a leader in the Advanced Risk & Compliance Analytics (ARCA) practice at PwC and as Director of Data Science & Analytics Engineering at Areté Associates. I've served the public as Chair of the Thousand Oaks, CA Planning Commission. I have been married to my wife Stephanie since 1993, and we have a wonderful daughter Monroe. Learn more about me »

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