Friday, December 19, 2008
Do You Impress Strangers?
I want you to think back to the last person you met for the first time and name as many details about the person as you can. Now, look at your list and consider the first three items.
Do they look something like this?
1. Limp handshake.
2. Rarely made eye contact.
3. Awkward conversationalist.
Or, more like this:
1. Great smile.
2. Confident manner.
3. Asked great questions.
The difference between these two assessments can make or break a career. In today's fast-paced business environment, we often only get one chance to make a good impression on someone. At the same time, it's often very difficult to establish a positive connection in a short amount of time, especially if we're not "good" at small talk.
In a perfect world, of course, we wouldn't be judged on initial contact, but the truth is most people have summed you up in less than a few minutes. So, let's look at some ways to not only make that good first impression, but to engage the other person enough to help your career.
1. Look in the mirror. Really. Look in the mirror several times a day and make sure your hair is combed, there are no stains on your clothes (keep a stain remover at work or in a briefcase), and use mouthwash or breath mints, especially after eating or drinking coffee. It's often the small details that trip you up -- you can be wearing a $2,000 suit and if your breath reeks of garlic and your hair is standing on end, you've just wasted $2,000.
2. Shake hands firmly. I've had people shake my hand so hard they cracked my knuckles. I don't appreciate that any more than I do the half-hand, limp, lackadaisical shake. If you're not sure how to shake hands properly, find a car salesperson. Those people have perfected the art of the handshake and can teach you in no time flat.
3. Ask a question. Nothing is more awkward that someone asking: "How are you?" and you respond: "Fine." And then nothing. Ask a question that focuses on the needs and interests of the other person. Depending on the situation, you can ask about industry challenges in this economy, how they do their job, what professional organizations they find the most helpful or even if they use any social networking to help them get more business.
4. Edit the self promotion. People are worried about their jobs right now, and that's leading to some elevator pitches that are delivered with a sledgehammer. While you should promote yourself when you get the chance, an initial meeting can become very uncomfortable if you launch into your talents and abilities right away. A better way is to talk about other people who have helped you do your job, or to be successful with a project.
5. Don't blow your exit. Once you've established rapport with the other person, don't forget that your last impression is even more important. End your conversation by saying how much you've enjoyed the meeting, perhaps even making a final note of what you've learned: "I really appreciate the chance to hear your thoughts on how much going back to school helped you. It's something I'll be thinking about," you say, again offering your car salesperson handshake. By ensuring the person that you not only heard what was said, but really listened, you've made a strong first impression.
What are some other ways to make a good first impression and establish rapport?