The old adage that you don't get a second chance at first impressions bears some truth. University of Ontario researchers have now given us scientific proof that first impressions are persistent. This makes it crucial to pay attention to how you come across when you first meet someone who's important to your business. A bad first impression with a potential client can cost you in lost opportunities.
It doesn't take much to sway people's opinion of you when they first meet you. Within seconds, people form a first impression about who they think you are.
Malcolm Gladwell, bestselling author of Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, once said of first impressions, "We don't know where our first impressions come from or precisely what they mean, so we don't always appreciate their fragility." Understanding that fragility is important, as it allows you to control the subtle nuances that can influence how others perceive you.
Here are five tips to help you manage the first impressions you make.
Spruce Up Your LinkedIn Profile
More and more today, first impressions start to take shape long before someone meets you in person. It's safe to say that most people will check you out on LinkedIn before meeting with you face to face.
What they see on your profile helps them form an opinion of who they think you are. If you set up your LinkedIn profile years ago, then promptly forgot all about it, it's time to rectify the situation. LinkedIn is all about making connections and building a network. So if your LinkedIn profile shows just a few connections, it signals that you're a starter but you don't follow through, which is sure to give others a poor impression of you. You're better off deleting your profile altogether.
If you'd like to keep it, then it's time to move away from an amateur profile to a more professional one. Some people make the mistake of having no photo at all or using a photo that's too personal. Use a professional-looking photo, then craft a compelling headline that prompts people to want to connect with you. And pay particular attention to the "summary" section. As LinkedIn strategist Andy Foote says, the summary is "where people look to find out what makes you tick." It's the one area in your profile where you can brand yourself.
If you need help in this regard, check out Foote's blog post, "3 Stunningly Good LinkedIn Profile SUMMARIES." The summaries he highlights stand out and make a first-class impression. What do you need to do to control the impression you make on LinkedIn?
Update Your Website
Research shows that 47 percent of consumers expect a Web page to load in two seconds or less. And 40 percent of people abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load. That's a lot of potential customers who don't even have a chance to form a first impression of you!
In addition, more and more people are searching websites from their mobile devices. If you created your website some time ago, it may be wise to check that it's mobile friendly, meaning your content is easily viewable on devices such as smartphones or tablets that have a narrower width than a desktop or laptop. To achieve this, you may need to have a professional ensure that you have a responsive Web design. Responsive Web design is a way of making a single website that works well on desktop browsers as well as on all mobile devices. You can create a bad impression of your business as being antiquated if your website is hard to navigate on a mobile device. This can result in you losing potential business.
Watch out, as well, for other details that signal sloppiness. For example, does your site have any broken links or outdated information? Does your site have a "homemade" look? It's easy today to get a professional-looking website for a small investment.
Pay Attention to Your Clothing
What we wear communicates a lot of information about us. Like it or not, first impressions can be heavily influenced by our clothing. According to entrepreneur and success expert Brian Tracy, "Your clothes are responsible for 95 percent of the first impression that you make on someone because, in most instances, your clothes cover 95 percent of your body."
Does this mean you should go out and buy an entirely new wardrobe? No, but it's important to care about how you look when you're meeting clients just as you would care about the look of your sales brochure or other marketing materials. You're the living brochure for your company.
Additionally, when delivering a presentation, it pays to dress appropriately for the occasion. In The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, communication expert Carmine Gallo calls it "wearing the appropriate costume." Steve Jobs could get away with jeans and running shoes when presenting, but, as Gallo says, that's because he was Steve Jobs. "When you’re a business legend who is credited with reinventing the entire computer industry," Gallo notes, "you can show up in pretty much anything you want."
But before Jobs became a legendary success, when he wanted investors to take him seriously, he dressed conservatively. So don't discard your suit just yet!
Watch Your Grammar
You can make a bad impression instantly if your written communication has spelling or grammatical errors. It pays to take the time to proofread what you send out, even if it's just an email, and get familiar with some of the most common grammatical errors so you can avoid them. Sloppy grammar sends out a message that you don't care.
Give Them a Reason to Trust You
Much has been written about the importance of making direct eye contact, having a firm handshake, smiling and appearing confident as essentials for making a good first impression. While this is good advice, new research shows that people respond better to someone who comes across as trustworthy rather than confident.
Paradoxically, we want to see others as trustworthy, but we want them to see us as competent and strong. As social psychologist Amy Cuddy says, "People often make the mistake of over-weighting the importance of expressing strength and competence, at the expense of expressing warmth and trustworthiness." But it's trustworthiness that you should be conveying.
There are myriad ways to establish trust, including being punctual, being prepared and showing a genuine interest in the other person. Most important, know your product and service, and listen well to understand the other person's needs.
Ultimately, the best way to make a good first impression is not to set out to impress at all. Too many people today clamor for attention by positioning themselves as bigger, louder and more aggressive than the others around them.
Rather than set out to impress, strive to provide value at every touch point with customers and other stakeholders. This mindset speaks louder than any gimmicks designed to impress.
Bruna Martinuzzi is the founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd. and the author of two books: Presenting with Credibility: Practical Tools and Techniques for Effective Presentations and The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.
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