When you work in a competitive industry like the tech business, you may not always get a second chance to stand out. First impressions are so important.
In order to utilize the power of first impressions, however, you need to grasp how people perceive you.
Why First Impressions Matter
Within the first few seconds of meeting, people can have the capability to decide whether you’re high status, trustworthy, charismatic, leadership material, smart, dominant, successful, a friend, or an ally … among other things. Once a first impression has been established, it’s hard to change.
As Brigadier General Milford H. Beagle Jr. writes, “Research has found that it can take up to six months of regular contact with someone to change their initial impression and alter the lens through which they see you or your organization. These first impressions can be nearly impossible to reverse or undo, and they often set the tone for the relationship that follows.”
Good or bad, first impressions stick. Odds are you might not ever get the chance to reverse the original perception someone has of you.
So don’t take the first few moments with anyone for granted.
How to Make Stronger First Impressions
Science is clear about how quickly first impressions form, but it’s also given us strong indications of how people can make a stronger first impression. Here are some of the elements that come into play.
- Body Language
If people make initial first impressions within one-tenth of a second of meeting someone, as some research has suggested, it follows that what a person says isn’t nearly as important as how he or she looks. As superficial as this may seem, body language is an essential part of that.
If you want people to hold you in high regard, pin your shoulders back, keep your chin up, smile, and make plenty of eye contact. Relax your facial muscles and maintain a soft, warm expression.
These are things anyone can do, yet few take sufficient trouble to put them into practice.
In addition to body language, your physical appearance matters. It’s critical to be conscious of and strategic about what you wear.
For men, clothing that fits the shape and size of their body is key. A tailored suit or properly fitted slacks will say a lot. For women, wearing a nice watch can give off the sense of a successful person.
When you finally get the chance to open your mouth, you should be tactful in how you speak. Even the simple way in which you say “hello” makes a difference.
According to ScienceNOW, “Men who raised the tone of their voices, and women who alternated the pitch of their voices were rated as more trustworthy. Men with lower-pitched voices were generally perceived as more dominant. But the opposite was true for women: Those with higher average pitch were rated as more dominant.”
If that sounds a bit complicated, let’s admit that, in fact, it is. You’ll have to do some detailed research on this issue and experiment with different approaches until you find the natural fit for you.
- Talking Points
Subconsciously, people focus on your tone of voice. However, consciously, most people also pay attention to what you’re saying.
Thus, it’s appropriate to be mindful of the content of your speech. The worst thing that can happen in an initial meeting is to come across as unprepared or inept.
It’s a good idea always to identify and bring two to three effective talking points on which you can fall back, in case there’s a lull in the conversation. You might select a funny story about something that happened on the way to the meeting, an anecdote about a mutual acquaintance, or some other tasteful comment.
Finally, you can solidify a solid first impression by following up with the individual soon after the encounter. If you meet someone for coffee in the morning, for example, think about sending a two-sentence email to follow up that afternoon, in which you thank the person for his or her time.
This is one of those small things that most people fail to do! So you’ll stand out if you do it.
Give Yourself a Boost
You don’t have to possess a track record of past achievements or an amazing skillset to make that positive first impression. If you give a little attention to your body language, voice, talking points, appearance, and initiate a follow-up contact, you can give yourself the boost you need to set yourself apart in the overcrowded tech industry.