Research suggests that we make judgements about people within 7 short seconds. During this time questions flit through our minds such as “Do I like what I see and hear?” “Are they like me?”  “Will they fit in?” “Can I trust them?” and “Will they like me?”.  Of course, none of these questions can be answered during the very first meeting, but if it’s a truism that you ‘never get a second chance to make a first impression’, it is worth observing a few fail-safe guidelines to prepare for a fruitful long-term relationship. Whether you’re sitting in an interview, taking part in a presentation, walking into a client meeting for the first time, networking at an event, pitching a business idea, or meeting your partner’s parents for the first time, building rapport and making a positive first impression is really important. So how do you go about doing this in the all so important first few minutes of meeting someone? Much of this is common sense and just good manners, but we all need a reminder from time to time.

So try to follow these seven key pieces of advice and you will feel more confident about how you are initially perceived:

  1. Come prepared
    Be on time and not in a last minute rush. Check that you have given yourself time to collect your thoughts. If you know who you are meeting, have you done some research into their background, the organisation or the client?
  2. Wear a smile
    A simple smile can make someone’s day. It conveys feelings of happiness, hope and positivity to anyone who sees it. A genuine smile reaches your eyes and helps you throw a little “feel-good party” in your own brain, which will also quell any nerves you may be feeling.
  3. Get your handshake right
    Practice with your friends and aim for a firm controlled handclasp. Think about the impression your handshake is creating? We don’t want any bone crushers or limp lettuces – we’ve all experienced them! Take your lead from the other person, but if they don’t extend their hand it is still good protocol to extend yours anyway.
  4. Practice your introduction
    Repeating your name can be very useful in helping the person you meet to remember your name e.g. “Hello I’m Sarah, Sarah Smith”. Adding a positive comment such as “It’s so lovely to meet you”, immediately gives the impression you are warm, genuine and open. When they say their name, try to repeat it back and again in the conversation, which will help you commit it to your long term memory. Failing that, take the first opportunity to write down their name and a few memory-jogger notes. (President Bill Clinton did, so you can too!)
  5. Speak clearly and use positive language (“I’m great”, not,  “I’m not too bad”)
    Avoid mumbling or whispering, and talk at the right pace. If you feel nervous beware of the tendency to fill awkward silences with unnecessary babble and try not to dominate the introductory conversation with information about yourself. Watch out for the tell-tale signs they are losing interest in what you are saying.  Asking questions, instead, demonstrates your interest in the other person as well as your ability to listen and build rapport.
  6. Body language
    Maintain gentle but not too intense eye contact. Be aware of the messages given by your facial expressions e.g. frowning, shaking your head, looking away or grinning, laughing, widening your eyes, raising your eyebrows and nodding etc. Think also about your posture. Are you continually checking your phone? Are you standing with stooped shoulders, slouching and folding your arms?  This is not going to endear you at a time when you need to have an upright but relaxed posture, conveying a friendly, confident, enthusiastic and engaged individual.
  7. Look the part
    Consider how you are presenting yourself. The appropriate professional dress code might be gleaned from some judicious stalking of others on the organisation’s website, or by checking with others in advance. Whatever you choose to wear make sure it is comfortable, clean, ironed, with all buttons and fastenings intact; that shoes are polished, bags smart, nails and hair clean and tidy. It’s the overall image you want to convey; one that shows your attention to detail and pride in your appearance. Whoever meets you for the first time will hopefully infer that these qualities will translate into other things that you do. Finally check the mirror to see if you look positive and enthusiastic.

There are a number of events taking place on campus over the academic year covering different aspects of business and professional etiquette or personal presentation, so do make the most of them! Find out more about these events here.

This post was originally published in January 2016 and has been rewritten and updated for accuracy.
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