People like doing business with people who are knowledgeable, confident, good natured, and successful. In short, Winners! Thus, among your goals as an SBO should be making sure everyone you meet sees you as just that: a Winner! By helping people form positive first impressions of you, you will meet that goal more often than not.
Creating winning first impressions is important, but it’s even more critical if you’re selling a service, as every new face-to-face contact reflects on your business reputation and credibility. For good or ill, first impressions set the stage for everything that follows. By creating winning first impressions, people are likely to think favorably of you from then on.
Common advice about making good first impressions in social or business settings often includes tailoring your approach to the personality types of the people you meet.
That, I suggest, is easier said than done.
Googling “personality types” yields 1,680,000 results, including any number of online tests to determine which personality type you are. In case you’re wondering, the test I took pegged me as “Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, and Judging.” That’s fine, as far as it goes. But you wouldn’t know all that meeting me for the first time. I’ve had lots of practice feigning interest in perfect strangers. And I bet lots of other folks would say the same. There are better ways…
Winning First Impressions: Tips You Can Put to the Test
They say we only have 3 to 7 seconds to make a good first impression, so making the most of that tiny window can be critical, as there’s no second shot at getting it right. Everyone you meet will be judging and evaluating you by what they see, hear and sense. That makes key indicators—The way you look, The way you act, The way you talk, and How well you listen–very big deals in creating your share of winning first impressions.
Appearance—The way you look–means dressing for whatever part you’re expected to play when you’re expected to play it. For business meetings, your attire should neither be too formal nor too informal for the occasion. Your best bet is predicting what the person you’re meeting with might be wearing based on what you know or can learn about local business/company and standards, and use that as your sartorial guide. The same goes for social occasions that could turn into business opportunities if you play your cards right.
For example, when going to doctors’ offices I want a psychological edge, so I’ll usually don my old prep school rig — blue blazer, button down dress shirt and khakis; an outfit, I contend, sends just the right message to professionals whose other patients seldom take the trouble.
Body language—The way you act–is the gestures and mannerisms through which we communicate with and send hidden messages to others. Be positive when meeting people; face them, smile warmly and confidently, maintaining eye contact and an erect posture. Give firm, dry handshakes–but don’t try anything fancy. Inflicting Gorilla Grips, or rolling your hand on top are power plays that will tag you as, well, a jerk. The same goes for administering damp, limp handshakes. Ugh!
There’s more: Come across as animated and positive; confident and relaxed. And nod your head now and then. While you’re at it, skip distracting, but empty gestures: stroking your chin, tugging on your ear lobe, fiddling with your hair or tapping out Morse code with your pen…and such negative moves as crossing your arms, exercising your ankle or cracking your knuckles.
Speech—The way you talk–in this context includes greeting people cheerfully, speaking clearly and moderately, but confidently—all the better to come across as positive and successful, using their names more than once, saying “Hi (name)” or “Hello (name)”.
Let your voice convey cheerfulness and your pleasure at meeting people—as if you’re greeting a colleague or friend who just got back from a long trip. It must be clear that the other person—not you—is the main event. Approaching a group? Acknowledge every person with a confident greeting, and look each one in the eye.
Listening Skills—How well you pay attention–continue establishing rapport in initial meetings by showing genuine interest in the other person. For instance, briefly comment on office décor—paintings, books or other display items the owner obviously values—and actively pay attention to the replies.
Effective listening skills include “positive verbal cues,” such as: “Oh…? That’s interesting!” “How does that work?” “What comes next?” Because we all enjoy being the center of attention, people you’re meeting for the first time will reward your interest by seeking to continue the conversation. At least you hope so!
Making the Rest of the Impression – Your “Elevator Talk”
After making a winning first impression, the person you’ve just met may want to hear more from you. In that case, you’ll have an opportunity to make the rest of the impression by delivering your business’ “Elevator Talk.”
An Elevator Talk should be short—no longer than 30 to 45 seconds, about the time it takes an elevator to go from the first floor to the second floor. In addition, your Elevator Talk should create interest by distinguishing you from other small-business owners.
Like a good resume, your Elevator Talk needs to avoid jargon and common labels that can lead to stereotypical views of who you are and what you do. To be effective, your Elevator Talk should address these key questions:
- Who are you?
- What project are you working on?
- What is your finest accomplishment?
What’s more, you’ll need to practice your Elevator Talk until you can deliver it flawlessly well in advance of its use, whether during initial meetings or on other occasions.
Getting past bad first impressions can be difficult at best ( at worst, about as easy as chopping down a tree with a car!). However, by starting off on the right foot with new clients or customers, your relationships with them will be where you want them to remain: On the firmest kind of ground–giving you a shot at making the rest of the impression!
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