Tell me truly: when you first meet someone, how long does it take you to form an impression of them?
Five minutes of good conversation, you think? Maybe 15? It turns out we’re giving ourselves a little too much credit.
So, first impressions are made quickly. And, more often than not, you want to make a good one.
Perhaps you’re preparing for a job interview or maybe you’re attending your best friend’s dinner party…either way, anticipating the experience can be nerve-wracking because you want to put your best foot forward. You know it’s important to be yourself—to be friendly and witty and at ease—but you also want to make a good first (and lasting) impression.
I get it. Here are some of my favourite tips for doing just that:
Do Your Research
Who exactly are you hoping to impress? This is always a great place to start.
Doing research on those you’re trying to influence is easier in some situations (such as preparing for that job interview) and less so in others (like before that fancy dinner party); but you can do your due diligence, regardless.
If you have people’s names ahead of time, use them. We both know the internet is good for digging up information on just about anyone.
Learn a little bit more about the people you’ll meet: what are their names, backgrounds, hobbies? You don’t have to learn everything about them, of course; that’s a little bit creepy and you can (and should) let some topics come up naturally in conversation.
But the more research you do, the more at ease you’ll feel when you finally do meet.
Prep And Practice
This is my advice for just about everything: always be prepared.
Put that research into practice and use it to come up with topics, questions, and relevant anecdotes from your own life that you can share in conversation.
There’s no need to memorize everything—you don’t want your first impression to be stiff and robotic, after all. You’re just practicing to feel comfortable; to be prepared should you find yourself nervous and grasping for something to say.
Even if you don’t know who you’re going to meet, you know you’ll meet someone. Prepare some talking points.
The key to feeling calm is being prepared. And the more calm you feel, the better impression you’ll make.
Look The Part
“You sure clean up nice!”
(Isn’t that the best backhanded compliment?)
But that’s neither here nor there. Let’s call it a compliment and remember that that’s what we’re going for here—cleaning up and looking nice.
Beauty is subjective, of course, and undoubtedly in the eye of each and every beholder, but I think we can all agree on what it means to look our best.
Wear something you feel good in; wear an outfit that is clean and fits you well. But, most importantly, be comfortable. (If you don’t usually wear jewelry or contact lenses, for instance, now is not the time to start!)
Making a good first impression starts with being comfortable and confident in your own skin. You just have to look good, whatever your definition of “looking good” may be.
Listen, I don’t like being told to smile as much as the next girl suffering from a case of RBF and a naturally-downturned mouth. But body language is important and smiling is the most universally-recognized indication that you’re friendly and approachable.
It helps to make a good impression when those you meet believe that you’re a generally friendly and easy-to-get-along-with human being. Smiling helps with this.
Smiling also improves your overall attitude. And your attitude—whether you mean to consciously convey it or not—is also a big determinant of how people perceive you. It’s a lot harder to appear aloof, sullen, or rude when you have a smile plastered to your face.
Follow Up And Follow Through
In my humble opinion, the best way to make a great first—and lasting—impression is by following up and following through.
Because you are the savvy person that you are, I know you exchanged contact information with the person (or persons) you met. Follow up afterward. Thank them for meeting with you, mention something that stood out to you in your conversation, or share a link or a contact they might be interested in.
By remembering to follow-up and being friendly and helpful, you’re so much more likely to ensure that they remember you and remember you fondly too.
Obviously, you’ll never be able to control what people think of you, but you can do your part to shape the perception of you to one that is positive, enduring, and authentic.
And that brings me to the most important tip yet: be yourself.
It sounds cliché (because it’s become a bit cliché, unfortunately), but the sentiment remains true. There’s no point in making a good impression if it’s one that you can’t maintain; if it’s one that isn’t true to you.
Do your best to prepare and present your best self, but make sure it’s just that—your self.