It takes only seconds for others to form an opinion of us when we meet them for the first time. What they initially see becomes their own personal version of the truth, and it can be hard to change a first impression. You are judged by your ability to put others at ease, and your professional image can be enhanced or harmed by a few simple gestures.
Here are a few ways to use those primary moments to your advantage and create a favorable first impression.
Show up. Woody Allen said it best: "Showing up is 80 percent of life." If you have the courage and perseverance to walk through the door, you are on your way to success. Make an effort to attend events that you know will be valuable to your personal and professional growth.
Go in with a mission. You may not be able to meet everyone at a large event, but make an attempt to meet four or five key players that you are interested in getting to know. Do some advance preparation; find out who will be attending and learn what you can about them and their company. Put some thought into what you want to communicate to those you intend to meet. Your time will be limited so think intentionally.
Stand for all introductions. Forget the rules you learned as a child, "young ladies stay seated, and young men stand up." Both men and women show respect for themselves and the other person by standing up to shake hands for an introduction. Rising from your chair sends the message that you are interested and engaged in the person you are speaking with.
Practice introducing yourself. When meeting someone for the first time, offer an engaging smile, extend your hand for a firm handshake and speak your name slowly and deliberately to help them remember it. Most people rattle their names off quickly, making it difficult for the other person to hear and remember. I have a colleague who purposely pauses for an extra second between his first and last name to help the other individual process the introduction.
Make conversation, not a business pitch. Take it upon yourself to initiate and sustain an enjoyable, friendly interaction. Focus your attention on the person you are meeting, showing a genuine interest. By asking open-ended questions and using their name in conversation, you will come across as a fascinating conversationalist.
Be well informed. It's completely up to you to make yourself interesting. Know what is happening in the community and the world, from headlines to sports news, having a variety of topics on hand to keep the conversation flowing. Don't go in with the objective of sealing a deal, but instead, begin laying the foundation for a future relationship.
Thoughtfully end the conversation. End the visit as pleasantly as it began; extending your hand for a closing handshake. Express your interest in a follow-up discussion at another time, leaving the door open for a future opportunity to connect. Follow up with, "May I offer you my business card?" if the person is not a senior executive.
Project confidence through your body language. Your posture and dress will go a long way toward creating a positive impact on those you meet. Someone standing tall with their chin up, shoulders back and an engaging smile is infinitely more approachable than someone slouching and leaning against the wall. The manner in which you carry yourself sends a strong message -- make it a good one.