From when I started school, I distinctly remember my parents drilling into me the importance of making the right first impression. Shoes were always shined, hair brushed, clothes ironed and nails clean. Now, as a parent, I do the same with my children.
According to research by Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov, it takes about 100 milliseconds to make a first impression – yep that is all! That’s a nano-second of time to ensure how you want to be perceived is, in reality, being understood and registered. On top of this, there are numerous online articles stating it takes 200 times the amount of information to undo a bad first impression as it takes to make a good one.
The importance of making the right first impression cannot be overestimated. James Uleman, a professor of psychology at New York University and researcher on impression management, explains “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” He adds, “The impression you create may affect future job opportunities, collaborations or other important matters.”
“The impression you create may affect future job opportunities, collaborations or other important matters.”
In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell suggests that our first impressions are fairly accurate and actually stand the test of time. He states, “It is a central part of what it means to be human…. we thin-slice whenever we meet a new person or have to make sense of something quickly or encounter a novel situation.”
So, what’s the first impression people have of you?
Professional? Intelligent? Ambitious? Lazy? Sloppy? Disinterested?
And is their first impression the one you want them to have?
Here are five steps to making a great first impression:
1. Be on Your Brand
Whether we like it or not, appearance is our first filter — whether in person or online. Everything on the outside contributes to others’ initial impression of you. So, make it a good one. As my mum would say, ‘Polish your shoes, dress appropriately, iron your shirt, press your pants…’
2. Be Interesting and Interested
Conformity is not memorable; differentiation is. Become known for knowing something. With so much information at our fingertips there is no excuse not to feed your personal ‘interesting bank’. And why not work your quirks because we remember the differences - think Seth Godin with his bald head and glasses or Pink with her short blond hair. There is no excuse for being bland and boring.
Show a genuine interest in others. When you are engaged in conversation be truly engaged, present and listen deeply. Are you actually there in body but thinking about other things – the to do list, the email you need to send, what you are going to have for dinner? Listening is an essential part of making a good first impression. Listen to what people are really saying. Ask questions. Be curious in others.
3. Be an Action-Taker
If you say you’re going to do something, you must follow through and do it – this is a golden rule of making a good first impression. When you have spent time with someone, engaging in conversation then you must make sure your words align with your actions. Did you offer to make an introduction? Did you commit to deliver an action item? Did you agree to send them something? Whatever you commit to, make sure to follow through.
4. Be Thankful
Saying thank you is no longer enough. Make more effort and go one step further sharing why you are thankful. Change a simple “Thank you” to “Thank you for…” Thank others for their time and acknowledge what you found interesting, what you learnt and the action you are going to take.
5. Be Proactive
Always be prepared to go one step further. Think about what more you can do. The question “What can I do to help you?’ should always be running on continuous rotation. Offer to be of help and be willing to help. This sends a message that you are serious about the relationship, that you are proactive, respectful and willing to invest time and effort.
Whilst image and appearance are one way to create the right first impression there are other elements – being present, knowing your stuff, being prepared and being confident in you. When describing those that make a good first impression, Nick Holzherr, CEO Whisk.com shared his thoughts with me. He said, they are “on form at all times – friendly, well-dressed, they hold themselves well, add value to conversations, and make others feel amazing. They are genuinely interested and engaged in the conversation. They are present when they turn up – always.”
Take control of you and the impression you are making, because first impressions really do count.
Janine Garner is the author of Be Brilliant – how to lead a life of influence and is a global thought leader on powerful networking, collaboration and transformational leadership. Visit bebrilliantbook.com