Have you ever wished you could make a better first impression at that company meeting, industry trades how or local networking event? Do you find yourself wishing you could have said or done something differently afterwards? Are you envious of people who make it look so natural and easy? (I call them “people magnets,” they walk into a room and everyone instantaneously gravitates toward them.)
Fear not – it’s never too late to start. Here are 10 not-so-easy tips to improve (almost) anyone’s first impression. (If they were easy, you’d be doing them already and wouldn’t need to read this article!):
- Look the part – Mom always taught us, and I’m passing it on to our kids, that it’s better to overdress than underdress. Grunge really doesn’t look good on anybody. Buy less, but wear better quality; pay attention to details (especially outworn shoes and belts); and accessorize with pocket squares and French cuff shirts (for men) and scarves or wraps (for women). I’m no fashonista, so get professional image help – but raise your bar every year. There is a very real and quantifiable Return on Image™!
- Speak their language – If content is king, context is the emperor. Read, write, listen, and improve your use of the English language. There is a consistent dummying down of business communication in Corporate America – refuse to participate. If others don’t understand the words you use, that’s their problem. If you’re genuine, you won’t come across as an elitist. Look up one of my previous articles titled: “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu!” Learn to speak the language of the person you want to become and those you want to associate with in the future.
- Develop your presence – Those “people magnets” carry themselves with a certain level of confidence. They have self-esteem; get out of their house and office; travel, drink wine and learn from every experience. You don’t have to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth, and it’s not about expensive items. It’s about selling what is unique about yourself. You do belong in that group; you really are interesting, and people would love to hear some of your amazing past experiences.
- Polish your etiquette – Send out handwritten, personal cards. Have some personal business cards (with your home information on it) printed for social gatherings. Learn how to sit at the big kids’ table (where they have multiple utensils). Take a wine tasting or a cooking class. And learn to use humor appropriately. Just because it’s funny to you doesn’t mean it’s funny to others. This is an area where a good etiquette coach might come in handy.
- “Skate to where the hockey puck is going to be” – This is a famous Wayne Gretzke quote. I’ve often said, “Give me a copy of someone’s checkbook and their calendar, and I can tell you about their portfolio of relationships.” If you want to raise your profile, attend events where higher business-stature people are likely to attend. Get invited to hard-to-get-into events. Buy black-tie gathering tickets for worthy causes and invite a friend to go along.
- Surround yourself with quality people – Positive, outgoing, interesting, successful people tend to surround themselves with the same. To say this as politely as I can, negative people suck the life out of me! Work on projects, attend events and associate with those who have a positive outlook on life. Find those who make lemonade when they’re handed a basket full of lemons. Find the silver lining in every cloud and not a cloud in every silver lining.
- Get and stay in shape – I recently heard frightening statistics about the obesity in our culture. Your two biggest assets are your mind and your body – they’re your vehicles in life. You can choose to let your body hurt and get by with medications, or you can look in the mirror and say, “I’ve had enough and am choosing to change this behavior.” A friend in her early 50s recently has lost 40 pounds, and she looks and feels amazing. No gimmicky diet, just hard work in watching what she eats, and exercising during her lunch hour and after work, without exceptions or excuses. By the way, she’s completely off of all of her medications and hears she looks great about 10 times a day.
- Treat friends like gold – In our current low-trust environment, real relationships matter more than ever. It’s one thing to make a good impression, but those who know themselves and focus on fewer, but higher-quality relationships. Consistently outpace others in business and in life. In conflicts, apologize first and take the high road. Let time heal wounds, and go out of your way to improve the lives of your real friends.
- Do your homework – Sociologists tell us that an average person can proactively manage between 100 and 150 relationships. Which ones do you invest in consistently? If you believe in my reference to relationships as an investment, what’s your prospectus? Get in the habit of blocking off 30 minutes before each event to do research on the agenda topics or the bios of the attendees. Think of a handful of engaging, impactful questions. Winston Churchill once said, “Don’t judge a man by his answers; judge him by the quality of his questions.”
- Become a life-long learner – Every person you meet, every situation, every experience – good, bad or indifferent – is a learning opportunity. Learn from all that you do well, and learn from other people’s mistakes because you certainly don’t have the time to make them all yourself. When you go through life as a sponge, it’s amazing how fulfilled your life actually becomes. Open up your eyes and ears. There are learning experiences all around us – from your colleagues, children, mentors and other cultures. Experiential learning (that which you learn by doing) tends to stay with you much longer than anything else.
One last thing to consider: most people make up their minds about others in the first 10 seconds and they solidify that point of view in the next 10 minutes. So always evaluate what kind of first impression you’re making.
For more business relationship best practices tips, follow me on Twitter @davidnour.