First impressions count

First impressions count

April 13, 2010 by Heather Townsend

First impressions are everything. Get it right, and everything becomes easy. Get it wrong and you are pushing water uphill with a sieve.

Many people will warble on about you have to be your authentic self when meeting people. Get that right and you will make the right impression. They are sort of right but what happens if your authentic self doesn’t make a great first impression.

So, what do I mean by a great first impression? People respond well to warm, positive and confident folk. Very simply, that means offer your handshake first, give them a warm smile and be positive and enthusiastic.

As a slight aside, when I talk about handshakes, there is nothing worse than a wet fish handshake OR a bone-crushing handshake which leaves you gasping for breath. If you don’t know how your handshake is perceived, test it out on friends and get their feedback.

How do I put this delicately? Appearances do count and stereotypes do exist. If you think of a lawyer, you expect to see a well-tailored suit and a neat appearance. Lawyers take note; however much you want to break out of the mould, a well-fitting suit is probably necessary for your credibility. As many image consultants will tell you, details are important. Chipped nail polish or dirty nails is a no-no, as is missing buttons from a coat, or messy hair. If you have young children, do carefully check your appearance in the mirror before you go out, baby sick down the back is a ‘no-no’!

If you look good, and have a confident handshake, then the battle for the right first impression is nearly won. The last piece of the jigsaw is how you introduce yourself. For many professionals, a big trap is waiting for them, when asked (the almost standard question at a networking event), ‘so what do you do?’ Do you confess and say, I’m an accountant... lawyer... coach...  and fall into the trap. Or do you describe what you do by the value you bring to your clients?

The right answer is to have the one sentence sound bite prepared, which succinctly (yes, succinctly) talks about the value you bring to your clients. It wouldn’t surprise you to know that my sound bite is “I help professional advisors gain better business results for less effort”. Many people worry that if they use this type of opening, people wouldn’t know what they do. I can see that this is a genuine concern, however, in my experience, whenever this type of opening is used, the next question is ‘oh, that sounds interesting, how do you do that?’. And then you are off, the conversation is started, and you have moved straight into a business conversation.

Heather Townsend is The Efficiency Coach

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