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Nail A 1st Impression Without Being Mistaken For A Suck-Up

Powerful, self-aware people are those who nurture a conversation versus dominating it.

Most of us want to make a positive first impression when we meet someone in social or business settings. Assuming that you want to learn more about this person and explore the positive role they could play in your life, you will try to make it easy for them to slowly create a relationship with you. An unfortunate side-effect of the desire for that connection may cause you to knowingly or unknowingly suck up.

After decades of attending social and business networking events, I've learned that positive body language (including an open, accessible stance, sincere handshake and authentic smile) helps move me into the "friend" category before the conversation begins.

Beyond positive body language, here are five tips on making the best first impression on someone you want to get to know.

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Avoid cases of mistaken identity

Start with the basics. Find out who the person is — introduce yourself. I learned this when I struck up a conversation at a film reception with a person I instantly mistook for a celebrity and didn't bother asking her name. Not long into the conversation when I realized my mistake, she graciously told me she "gets that all the time" and introduced her "real" self. I got back on track but had lost some credibility thanks to my assumption that initially made me nervous.

At the start of a conversation with someone you have just met, there is a brief, unspoken negotiation between you about who will control the conversation. To ensure a balanced conversation, don't assume anything about them based on how they dress, speak or appear. Even if you think they may be a celebrity or other person worth including in your network, but aren't sure, you want to confirm: their name, what they do, why they are here and, perhaps, who they know in the room. Confirming basic facts about the other person, whether they are used to lots of attention or have a lower profile, will help you avoid sounding too keen and eager to please them. Sucking up lets them quickly own the conversation and puts you in a supporting role.

They know that pleasers suck up to get something from them by flattering them.

Ask questions you would ask anyone else

When speaking with someone who may have influence over you or your career (such as business leaders or the head of your global organization), remember that they meet many pleasers. They know that pleasers suck up to get something from them by flattering them or are so nervous they can't have an intelligent conversation. Instead of making statements that build them up — such as "I guess it's exciting to be so popular in the media. You must find it personally rewarding." — consider a neutral conversation about developments in the media industry where you can weigh in with your ideas.

Avoid name dropping

When we name drop, we are really seeking the approval of the person with whom we are speaking. Name dropping is sometimes viewed as another way to make you appear worthy and just as influential and interesting as you believe your conversational partner to be. While there's no need to hide the fact you grew up with someone famous, don't mention it for the sake of bringing it up.

It's best if you have a natural opportunity to mention the person instead of jamming their name into the conversation. Name dropping is a big part of sucking up. It can backfire if you mention or praise someone you know, only to find the other person can't stand them. Or, in order to please, you may bad mouth someone you wrongly assume the person doesn't like. They could be best friends outside the public arena.

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Know when to end the conversation

People who suck up often try to make the most of their opportunity to win all the points they can and overspeak as a result. They are more likely to close down the conversation faster than non-flatterers who have the ability to sustain a more interesting "conversation between equals."

Even if the person is potentially important to you, try to surprise them by ending the conversation first. This doesn't mean abruptly concluding it, but rather diplomatically taking control of the situation when you sense the conversation has run its course. Five minutes of conversation (with a maximum of 10) at a large event will usually be enough, especially if you sense a line up forming behind you. However, use your discretion and avoid cutting someone off when they are in the middle of a thought.

When you feel it's time to end the conversation, consider, "It's been a pleasure speaking with you and I'm looking forward to continuing our conversation. I'm sure there are others you'd enjoy chatting with, so I'll wish you a pleasant evening." It's always wise to leave them wanting more.

Remember to look for powerful people in the room who may not be high profile

The most powerful person in the room used to be the most professionally acclaimed, high-profile or highly paid. Today, powerful, self-aware people are those who nurture a conversation versus dominating it.

You don't need to suck up and try to impress others to create your own powerful presence. You can create it gradually by listening. As you listen, you gain information. That information can help you take the conversation wherever you want it to go, always mindful of the need to thoughtfully respond to fresh information to keep it interesting and positive. The information others offer voluntarily as you gain their trust can provide you with clues about whether they are the sort of person you want to have as a client or as part of your personal or business network.

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