Making a Great First Impression

Getting off to a Good Start

© iStockphoto/nyul

It takes just a quick glance, maybe three seconds, for someone to evaluate you when you meet for the first time. In this short time, the other person forms an opinion about you based on your appearance, your body language, your demeanor, your mannerisms, and how you are dressed.

With every new encounter, you are evaluated and yet another person's impression of you is formed. These first impression can be nearly impossible to reverse or undo, making those first encounters extremely important, for they set the tone for all the relationships that follows.

So, whether they are in your career or social life, it's important to know how to create a good first impression. This article provides some useful tips to help you do this.

Be on Time

Someone you are meeting for the first time is not interested in your "good excuse" for running late. Plan to arrive a few minutes early. And allow flexibility for possible delays in traffic or taking a wrong turn. Arriving early is much better that arriving late, hands down, and is the first step in creating a great first impression.

Be Yourself, Be at Ease

If you are feeling uncomfortable and on edge, this can make the other person ill at ease and that's a sure way to create the wrong impression. If you are calm and confident, so the other person will feel more at ease, and so have a solid foundation for making that first impression a good one. See our section on relaxation techniques to find out how to calm that adrenaline!

Present Yourself Appropriately

Of course physical appearance matters. The person you are meeting for the first time does not know you and your appearance is usually the first clue he or she has to go on.

But it certainly does not mean you need to look like a model to create a strong and positive first impression. (Unless you are interviewing with your local model agency, of course!)

No. The key to a good impression is to present yourself appropriately.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and so the "picture" you first present says much about you to the person you are meeting. Is your appearance saying the right things to help create the right first impression?

Start with the way you dress. What is the appropriate dress for the meeting or occasion? In a business setting, what is the appropriate business attire? Suit, blazer, casual? And ask yourself what the person you'll be meeting is likely to wear – if your contact is in advertising or the music industry, a pinstripe business suit may not strike the right note!

For business and social meetings, appropriate dress also varies between countries and cultures, so it's something that you should pay particular attention to when in an unfamiliar setting or country. Make sure you know the traditions and norms.

And what about your grooming? Clean and tidy appearance is appropriate for most business and social occasions. A good haircut or shave. Clean and tidy clothes. Neat and tidy make up. Make sure your grooming is appropriate and helps make you feel "the part".

Appropriate dressing and grooming help make a good first impression and also help you feel "the part", and so feel more calm and confident. Add all of this up and you are well on your way to creating a good first impression.

A Word About Individuality

The good news is you can usually create a good impression without total conformity or losing your individuality. Yes, to make a good first impression you do need to "fit in" to some degree. But it all goes back to being appropriate for the situation. If in a business setting, wear appropriate business attire. If at a formal evening social event, wear appropriate evening attire. And express your individuality appropriately within that context.

A Winning Smile!

As the saying goes, "Smile and the world smiles too." So there's nothing like a smile to create a good first impression. A warm and confident smile will put both you and the other person at ease. So smiling is a winner when it comes to great first impressions. But don't go overboard with this – people who take this too far can seem insincere and smarmy, or can be seen to be "lightweights."

Be Open and Confident

When it comes to making the first impression, body language as well as appearance speaks much louder than words.

Use your body language to project appropriate confidence and self-assurance. Stand tall, smile (of course), make eye contact, greet with a firm handshake. All of this will help you project confidence and encourage both you and the other person to feel better at ease.

Almost everyone gets a little nervous when meeting someone for the first time, which can lead to nervous habits or sweaty palms. By being aware of your nervous habits, you can try to keep them in check. And controlling a nervous jitter or a nervous laugh will give you confidence and help the other person feel at ease. Again, see our section on relaxation techniques for help with this.

Small Talk Goes a Long Way

Conversations are based on verbal give and take. It may help you to prepare questions you have for the person you are meeting for the first time beforehand. Or, take a few minutes to learn something about the person you meet for the first time before you get together. For instance, does he play golf? Does she work with a local charitable foundation?

Is there anything that you know of that you have in common with the person you are meeting? If so, this can be a great way to open the conversation and to keep it flowing.

Be Positive

Your attitude shows through in everything you do. Project a positive attitude, even in the face of criticism or in the case of nervousness. Strive to learn from your meeting and to contribute appropriately, maintaining an upbeat manner and a smile.

Be Courteous and Attentive

It goes without saying that good manners and polite, attentive and courteous behavior help make a good first impression. In fact, anything less can ruin the one chance you have at making that first impression. So be on your best behavior!

One modern manner worth mentioning is "turn off your mobile phone". What first impression will you create if you are already speaking to someone other than the person you are meeting for the first time? Your new acquaintance deserves 100% of your attention. Anything less and you'll create a less than good first impression.

Key Points

You have just a few seconds to make a good first impression and it's almost impossible ever to change it. So it's worth giving each new encounter your best shot.

Much of what you need to do to make a good impression is common sense. But with a little extra thought and preparation, you can hone your intuitive style and make every first impression not just good but great.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Click here for more, subscribe to our free newsletter, or become a member for just $1.


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