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First Impressions: Are Yours Fatal or First Prize?




Everyone formulates first impressions of others upon meeting them. We look at the way the other person dresses, his or her hairstyle and other physical features, and then we quickly decide whether we like the person or not. In fact, many studies show that we form these impressions in mere seconds.

John Gottman of the University of Washington observed newlywed couples in the 1970s. He watched their subtle interactions and tendencies for only 15 minutes and was able to predict with 90 percent accuracy which couples would still be married 15 years later. In another study, Nalini Ambady of the Harvard Department of Psychology observed the length of time it takes to form a first impression by recording 10-second video clips of individual professors. She showed the clips to a group of students, and asked them to rate and evaluate each professor. When Ambady compared these students evaluations with those from students who had actually taken the professors classes for the entire semester, the correlation was amazing. She found that the students from the first group were able to formulate impressions in only 10 seconds that were similar to the second group whod seen the professors for an entire semester.

Whether accurate or not, people often base all their subsequent interactions with others on these initial impressions. So have you ever thought about the first impressions other people formulate about you? Probably not. In reality, most people dont. But if you want to be the best you can possibly be in sales or business, the first impression you exude is crucial to your success. Work on it, polish it and practice it!

What Forms First Impressions?

First impressions are based on everything you see, hear and smell. In a business setting, this means others will be looking at how you dress, what you say and your personal grooming habits. Equally important are your nonverbal communication messages. Albert Marabian of UCLA studied what aspects of communication actually convey the most to other people. He found that 55 percent of communication is received from body language. Another 38 percent is received from tone of voice, and only 7 percent is verbal. That means that more than half of your initial message comes across through your posture the way you hold and move your arms, the position of your eyes and other completely nonverbal methods. In the case of a contradiction between your words and your body language, body language always prevails.

It deserves to be said that first impressions arent always fair or accurate. But remember the saying, If you try to swim upstream, you will drown. You cant fight the rules and be successful, and the rules dictate that you must be well-groomed and well-dressed. Look at yourself in the mirror before going to work in the morning and ask yourself, Would I do business with me? If you cant answer yes, then you might as well get back into bed.

So how can you make a winning first impression every time? Consider the following tips.

1. Focus on Your Prospect

Your first meeting with others determines whether they want to conduct business with you in the future. Therefore, you want to be right there, in the moment, with your prospects. Dont look over their shoulders or scan the room for someone else to talk to. Look your prospects in the eyes and focus on what they have to say. If you happen to be at a large networking function, dont get distracted and think that you need to meet everyone. Youre actually better off if you meet one or two people and establish a winning impression by spending time with them, rather than making casual contact with many people.

2. Establish a Presence

Confidence comes across in the way you stand, move and handle yourself in a group. When youre confident and calm, you create a positive presence. So the next time you enter the boardroom or a sales meeting, put your nerves and insecurities aside, and walk in as if you own the building. But keep in mind confidence is very different from arrogance, which creates a very negative presence.

3. Use a Firm Handshake

Handshakes, especially in business settings, often are the first body language another person will notice because they are used as greetings. Therefore, they are important in developing good first impressions. The University of Alabama published a study on handshakes in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The findings showed that a firm handshake for some duration, coupled with eye contact, communicates that the person is sociable, open and friendly. By contrast, a weak handshake communicates that the person is shy and introverted, or indifferent.

4. Get Organized

Especially in business, organization is a crucial part of impressions. For example, if you get into a salespersons car and its a filthy mess, you probably wont feel comfortable signing his contract. Or, if you meet with a lawyer whose briefcase is so jammed with loose pieces of paper that it takes her five minutes to find a pen, you probably wont feel comfortable with her representation. A lack of organization sends a message that the person doesnt pay attention to detail and might even produce sloppy work. Take the time to stay organized and tidy.

5. Consider Your Prospects Background

Consider the people youll be meeting and the environment youll be in. In certain geographic and economic backgrounds, you must tailor your style of dress and behavior to fit in. For example, if youre meeting a prospective client on his ranch in Idaho, your custom-made suit and shiny Lexus might alienate you. Likewise, a dusty truck and cowboy boots could alienate a prospect in Beverly Hills. To relate comfortably with people and make them feel comfortable about you, you should not appear to be an outsider.

6. Dont Scream Success

If you want people to think youre a big shot, then you never want to say in words that youre a big shot. Dont brag about your fancy toys or pricey clothes. Everyone has met a person like this and is irritated by his or her behavior. Let your appearance, body language, voice and listening skills communicate your level of success.

Successful First Impressions Every Time

If youre serious about your career and you want to be as successful as possible, then great first impressions are the key. Everything you do, say and wear formulates the way the world sees you. And because people decide their impression of you in seconds, you must consider the way your prospects will perceive you before actually meeting them. When you use these tips for creating a winning first impression, youll secure more sales and achieve higher levels of business success.

About the Author

Jack Perry is a renowned leadership coach, speaker and author with more than 40 years of experience. Jack, Youre Fired, is his forthcoming book on effective sales, goals and motivation techniques. Perry climbed to a district sales management position at IBM Corp., then became CEO at a national financial services firm. Now he is a senior vice president for a division of John Hancock. Perry is an expert on sales, motivation, leadership and retirement planning. For more information on his training and speaking, visit his Web site at www.respectfactor.com or call +1 800 334 4437.


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