Whether you’re at a job interview, sealing a sales deal or networking with new people at a gathering, you always want to leave a good first impression. The power of first impressions is that they usually last — and there’s a good reason for that.In this fast-paced life we live in, our brains have to process loads of information, making the window for judgement smaller. Once we create a perception, we stick to it and are less likely to change it.
Creating a positive first impression simply means that you need to actively manage both how people ‘feel’ about you and how they ‘think’ about you. There are hundreds of books, articles and videos on how to impress others, but many of them lack the proper balance between these two components. Some resources accentuate the importance of building rapport and excellent communication (the ‘feel’ component), while others favor the presentation of your achievements or the solution you’ll bring to a business problem (the ‘think’ component). This article will attempt to offer an integrative approach that can help you make a good first impression.
Manage how people ‘feel’ about you
Within a few seconds of meeting someone for the first time — and even before you say a word — they form an initial impression about you. Research shows that your appearance and body language carry approximately 80% of the information people need to form that impression. Our brains are wired so that initial impressions, which are mostly emotional, can subconsciously cloud rational judgment. That is why you need to manage how people feel about you before you manage how they think about you.
• Self-confidence: Can you name one reason why others would have confidence in you when you don’t seem to have confidence in yourself? It’s that simple. To have self-confidence, you must have good self-image and self-talk and belief in your skills and abilities. It’s a long journey that requires you to work on yourself first before any attempt to influence how people see you. That journey starts when you set meaningful goals in any aspect of your life and devote enough time and effort to achieve them. With every success at achieving a goal, your self-confidence will grow, you’ll be motivated to set and achieve more difficult goals and the cycle continues. Nothing here inspires me personally more than what Henry Ford once said: “Whether you think you can, or you think you cannot — you’re right.”
• Appearance: You need to be well-groomed. Remember that looking good is more important than being good looking, and it helps boost your self-confidence. You don’t need to wear expensive brands, but you must be clean, dress neatly, know how to match styles, pick colors that go together and always pay attention to details. It’s OK to get professional advice from a stylist or a fashion TV show.
• Body language: Your body is constantly sending out signals that reflect your internal state without you even being aware of it. Other people can read cues from things like your facial expressions, eye contact, handshaking, gestures, postures and tone to learn whether you feel confident, nervous, bored, interested or relaxed. Allan Pease offers a comprehensive guide to master this universal language in his book Body Language, How to Read Others’ Thoughts by Their Gestures. Become aware of your body language and constantly monitor it and you’ll guarantee powerful initial impressions. Practice enough to make sure your body language is naturally asserting and complementing your spoken words. Maintain an open stance with open arms and feet apart to demonstrate confidence and comfort. After all, how you say something can be more important than what you say.
• Rapport building: This is the art of connecting with others. First, recall names and use them in conversation — that’s a good way to show your care. Shake hands warmly, smile authentically and slowly and maintain eye contact while speaking. Prepare strategies for starting conversations and breaking the ice. Your topics should be appropriate for the occasion and level of intimacy.
Choose subjects that others can relate to so they feel comfortable sharing their stories in return. Practice humor, storytelling and sincere compliments as great tools that help you connect with people and tap into their feelings.Winston Churchill was a fantastic conversationalist and dinner guest, yet he used to prepare for gatherings for hours, rehearsing the comments and jokes he would share with people.
Make others feel like the center of attention and listen to them carefully. Read their body language, mirror their gestures, and match their mood and vocal pattern. The best books that can help you polish your rapport building skills are, among others, How to Talk to Anyone by Leil Lowndes, The Fine Art of Small Talk by Debra Fine, and Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi with Tahl Raz.
• Authenticity: Always be yourself and never pretend to be someone else. Don’t act overconfidently or you’ll come across as insecure. Don’t overdo any of the above or you might be seen as trying too hard. Finally, make your motives and intent clear to instill trust.
Manage how people ‘think’ about you
Now you’re done disarming the other person emotionally and have achieved likeability. It’s time to show them your confidence — the value you’ll add to them or their business. The mind-set you need to espouse here is to market yourself as if you were a brand that signifies distinctive qualities.
• Professionalism: The fastest way people judge your professionalism is through your timeliness. Do your best to always be on time to convey a clear message about your good sense of time management, professionalism and ability to fulfill your commitments. If, for any reason, you are running late for an appointment, call to apologize before the due time, explain the reason for your delay and ask to reschedule. Another measure of professionalism is ethics and work morale.So, abandon any negative tone in talking about your previous company, ex-boss, colleagues or competitors.
• Language: Adopt vivid and simple language, employ relevant metaphors to stir inspiration and learn how to exert influence while adding charm to your conversations. This can best be done by perceiving things from different angles and interpreting nuances and subtle hints from the person with whom you are speaking.Avoid using buzzwords and clichés and try to find substitutes for overworked words like ‘nice,’ ‘smart,’ and ‘good.’ Don’t use technical jargon unless you are certain that the other person knows it already.
• Edge: This is the sum of your strengths and talents; what you are excellent at and what makes you stand out. You must not think of your strengths and talents in isolation, but in relation to how you can employ them to solve the employer or customer’s specific business problem. In their book Great Work, Great Career, Stephen R. Covey and Jennifer Colosimo call this your contribution and urge you to write a “contribution statement” that gives others a reason to hire you or to do business with you. For example, if you are a facility manager applying for a manufacturing company job, instead of saying that you seek “a fulfilling position” for using your “communication and negotiation skills,” you can much more compellingly state: “The costs of facility rentals eat up your company’s profits. Drawing on my experience in lease management, I believe I can cut rental expenses 10–20% by renegotiating contracts.”
Do your homework and learn everything you can about the firm you’re approaching. Being uninformed will reflect poorly on your own image. Know how to ask great questions that both elicit information you need, and at the same time show that you’re really different. Tony Beshara, in his book Acing the Interview, stresses that candidates who get the best jobs, ask the best questions. His book also lists more than 450 typical job interview questions and suggested answers.
• Potential: A surprising secret to marketing yourself is that people tend to be more impressed by candidates with high potential than candidates with a proven track record. Although this seems to be counterintuitive, it is actually confirmed by a study conducted in 2012 by Stanford University and Harvard Business School. Evaluators were found to prefer — consciously or subconsciously — those who could be “the next big thing” over those who have already made their records or their names.Based on this, you must alter your approach to employers and clients: focus more on your future than on your past, even if your past is already impressive.
• Energy: If edge and potential are your engine, energy will be your fuel. It’s the motive and the drive to constantly achieve and outperform. Enthusiasm and motivation are essential qualities that companies are seeking in today’s competitive environment.Spark energy in your body language and your words and remember that a good deal of your energy comes from taking the time for self-renewal. bt
Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim is a university lecturer and a management consultant with more than 15 years of professional experience in various multinational organizations in Egypt and the Gulf region.
He currently lives and works in Cairo, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in telecommunications engineering and later a doctorate in business administration from the Arab Academy Graduate School of Business (AAGSB) in 2011. He is also certified as a Six Sigma Black Belt (quality management) and project management professional.