Last summer I attended a national women’s conference with distinguished speakers, one of whom is a multi-billion dollar business owner and coach. In typical style I was dressed to impress, carrying myself with confidence, listening with intent and warmly smiling at everyone I met. The last day of the conference, she approached me in the room full of 1,000 + women and said, “I need to know you. You really stand above the rest of the group. What do you do?” I smiled and responded, “I do for others, what you just complimented me on. Thank you.” We went on to discuss topics we were passionate about and she ended up offering to speak for an event I was coordinating, free of charge. Her speaking fee is typically $25,000 for a 60 minute presentation. Score!! But this isn’t about my first impression, it’s about yours. Read on.
The first impression others form about you may affect your success and future collaborations and a positive one compels others to be curious about you and your products and services. Many of the contacts you make at networking events, conferences, and your every day life can have a huge impact on your professional success.
“You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression,” says James Uleman, PhD, a psychology professor at New York University and researcher on impression management. “In spite of the congeniality of many professional gatherings, judgments are being made and impressions formed all the time.” Substantial research has affirmed the importance of first impressions while exploring a variety of factors that contribute to their formation. For example, a 2009 study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that factors ranging from clothing style to posture play a role in how impressions are formed. Another study, in the April 2011 issue of Social Influence, found that a limp handshake can make you appear overly passive. Having a handle on the kinds of impressions you make can go a long way toward advancing your career, says Uleman.
How can YOU make a positive first impression? Following are 5 instantly actionable, simple strategies to polish yours:
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. Whether you are pitching an idea or attending a networking event, it’s important to know your audience and it all comes down to solid research. Doing your homework means Google-ing those individuals (or group) you will be meeting. Learn about what they’re up to and ask open ended questions. Research their value proposition, mission statement, company history and make note of some of the key words they use in their company culture. Subtly pepper those terms into your conversation (but don’t overdo it!). You’ll be sure to impress.
BE CLEAR ON YOUR MESSAGE. One of my personal clients shared that her hurdle was freezing when someone asked her what she did for a living or when it was her turn to share about her business at networking meetings. I completely understood because I’ve been there, too. It all comes down to practice. While it’s important not to come off as too rehearsed, get clarity on how to convey your message using impactful words authentic to your personal brand. Further, this is not a time to educate, but a time to convey the problem you solve for clients, who your target market is and the benefits of working with you. Think of it as an opportunity to create curiosity with your audience. Just enough information that will compel them to ask questions. Less is always better. I call it a ‘flirtation pitch’.
LISTEN WITH INTENT. Have you ever attended a business function and while you were talking with someone they were constantly looking over your shoulder? Was there someone ‘more important’ they needed to chat with? I’ve been in that situation and the message I received was that I didn’t matter in that moment. Ouch! A basic human desire is to be seen and heard and we have the opportunity to make others feel that way in our interactions. Laser focus on the individual you are speaking with. Ask them open ended questions like, “Tell me about the path that led you to becoming the Executive Vice President of… (company name, fill in the blank)?” They will feel valued and that makes you instantly likable. People work with people they like.
CARRY YOURSELF WITH CONFIDENCE. Non-verbal language, like posture and facial expressions, speaks volumes before you even open your mouth to speak. A tall graceful stance (even if you’re 5’ tall) with a smile and solid eye contact are powerful elements and often more important than what you say. Even if you’re not feeling confident, carry yourself that way and the way others respond to you will actually change how you’re feeling. There are definitely days that my confidence waivers, so I have couple of tricks up my stylish sleeve. I anchor myself to the confidence I have in my field of expertise and sometimes I’ll even channel my ‘Princess Diana” presence. One of my personal clients recently reported that when she applied these tips, she began attracting people to her, “Like bees to honey!”
POLISH YOUR IMAGE. Recently I had Saturday breakfast with a potential colleague. As usual, I dressed to impress. When we finished our breakfast meeting the gentleman asked where I was headed, all dressed up. I happily responded, “I’m headed home to put on jeans and a tee and spend a casual day with my husband.” He was pleasantly surprised that I had dressed up for him. He was honored. Dressing the part not only honors others, it represents your status as a successful professional (even if you don’t feel that way, yet!). Dressing as peer of your target market will attract them. People want to work with people they relate to. Attention to all of the fine details of your image is a reflection that you handle your business that way, too! Further, keeping your look current will also subtly demonstrate that you stay current in your field of expertise.
Think of the impression you make as a powerful marketing tool. Be clear about who your audience is and the message you want to convey. Listen with intent, carry yourself with confidence and dress the part of success. You’ll be sure to attract the business opportunities and clients you want and the cash register will ring!