You’ve heard it before: you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Research shows we make judgments about someone’s trustworthiness in seconds. What’s more, our first impressions are unlikely to change – even if we see conflicting evidence that suggests they’re wrong!
The takeaway? First impressions are very important, and shouldn’t be left to chance. With a little education and practice, you can increase your chances of making an exceptional first impression. In addition to nailing the basics, like maintaining eye contact and having a firm handshake, there are other simple actions you can practice to make a memorable first impression:
- Listen actively. One way to establish an immediate sense of trust and connection is through active listening. Active listening occurs when you are fully immersed in what the other person is saying, as opposed to thinking of the next thing you’re going to say or selectively listening for what you want to hear. The key is to be authentic. It is obvious to the other person if you are not taking a genuine interest in them or the subject, so only ask a question if you genuinely want to know the answer and avoid giving in to distractions. Use body language as well. Making eye contact and smiling builds trust and indicates you are fully present in the conversation. Active listening may sound simple, but can be very difficult when you are nervous and thinking about what you are going to say or ask next. Practice active listening in advance and take deep breaths to clear your mind before the meeting.
- Ask meaningful follow-up questions. If you are actively listening to someone, it is easier for you to think of follow-up questions based on your curiosity in the topic, or to clarify their message. In case the conversation comes to a lull, have questions prepared based on your research of the person. Preparing questions that go deeper than a typical, surface-level conversation makes the interaction memorable. Keep your questions open-ended and let them do the talking. Research has found that when people talk about themselves, it produces pleasurable feelings and stimulation in the brain, which will leave them with a positive impression of you!
- Book your next meeting in-person. Clarifying the next step and your next meeting time demonstrates you are reliable and committed to developing the relationship. If possible, continue to have in-person meetings, since 93% of communication effectiveness depends on nonverbal cues, which are best assessed in person rather than through video conferencing or over the phone. Also, in-person meetings result in more small talk, which is an innate part of social bonding and establishes trust.
First impressions are developed quickly and are long-lasting, so you need to make them count! When you’ve made a positive first impression, getting your next meeting is much easier. Whether or not these actions come naturally to you, it’s a good idea to practice them with people you already know and trust. When you’re meeting someone you really want to impress, your nerves can get the better of you and reduce your ability to listen and ask thoughtful questions. The more you practice, the more likely you’ll be able to do it in stressful situations. These simple, but essential tips will improve your first impressions greatly, and can have a huge impact on your business and personal relationships.