First impressions really do count, and that includes both online and offline. Like it or not, you are judged by others within the first 5 seconds. That’s tough if you are looking and sounding less than your best.
The only way to make those precious seconds count is to be proactive. What can you do ahead of time to maximise those first impressions?
Be prepared. If you know your subject and what you have to offer, you will appear calm and collected. Your poise and confidence will tell others that you are reliable and accomplished. Find out what image is appropriate for your meeting. Don’t fall into the trap of over-dressing when attending an informal meeting – or under-dressing for a formal meeting. It makes others uncomfortable and you will give them the impression that you lack empathy and judgement. Ensure that your energy levels will take you through your meeting without flagging. If you look tired, others may assume you’re too tired to get the job done.
Act appropriately when greeting others. Your facial expressions, your words and your hand shake must be fitting for the occasion and for those you are meeting. Research is all-important. Is this a formal or informal meeting? Are your clients or guests from overseas, and if so, what is the appropriate greeting to use? Should you dress in a certain manner for these clients? For example, business people from some parts of the Middle East and Asia will not be impressed by women displaying cleavage and bare arms and legs. Your conduct and appearance is a reflection of your company’s standards and ethics, and in turn, will reflect on your associates, employees and suppliers.
Your appearance makes an immediate visual impression, whether it is your grooming, clothes, accessories, briefcase or bag, makeup, hair style, facial expression or fragrance. Certain objects will create their own impressions: common sense will tell you that a gleaming and stylish briefcase is a far more positive indicator than a tatty plastic carry bag. Visual signals act as a guide to others as to whether you’re someone serious enough to do business with. Remember, appearance is like a tactical weapon created to deliver a specific impression. That impression can be ruined by overdoing aspects just as much as displaying a lack of stylishness or polish.
Think about your entrance, or what you will do as others enter the room. What words are appropriate for the occasion? Practice them so they become automatic. Once they become second nature, you can concentrate on others rather than yourself. Never forget that your verbal and non-verbal techniques embody the company as well as you as an individual.
Because first impressions are so important, it makes sense to judge how your efforts have paid off. As you meet people for the first time, watch their responses. Did you pick up any hints that your greeting and appearance achieved the desired result? Your guests’ subsequent behaviour will also reveal their impressions of you. Afterwards, assess where you can improve. Ask for feedback from other colleagues who attended the occasion. Were your manner and speech appropriate? Did it appear that you were well received? How might you improve your greetings? Was there anything in your appearance or deportment that might have been off-putting?
Your ability to communicate through appearance (your non-verbal language) and verbal language can be of tremendous benefit both to you and your business. As with anything worthwhile, it takes practice and refining. Watch those you admire, get mentored if possible and in time, it will be YOU setting the benchmark for your professional brand image management and not others.
Let me know about your own experience in creating first impressions. Any left field examples especially welcome.