[Tip No. 12 from “The ABCs of Strategic Communication” by M. Larry Litwin, APR, Fellow PRSA. To comment: firstname.lastname@example.org]
It takes only three to five seconds to make a first impression, but it can take a whole career to undo it.
Here’s what you should keep in mind during those first fateful moments to make a positive impression at an interview, conference, party or any other time
you meet new faces.
The tardiness taboo
The most important guideline is the most fundamental: Don’t be late. Ever.
Figure out how long it takes to get to your meeting point and allow extra time. It’s better to arrive early than risk tardiness. For interviews and other important events, do a practice run in advance to clock the drive and make sure you know the route.
If you arrive more than 10 minutes ahead of schedule, take a short walk before going inside. Arriving too early can rattle the person
It’s an unfortunate fact of human nature that before you even say hello, people form an opinion of you based on how you look.
In business settings, look sharp by dressing slightly more formally than the people you’re meeting with. Avoid distracting accents, like excessive jewelry or a goofy tie. Your clothes should not draw attention to you. And don’t leave a bad impression by forgetting the rear view.
Check the back of your clothes in the mirror for rips and stains. Make sure you’re tucked in where you should be. Also examine the back of your shoes for mud splashes or worn-down heels.
At events where you have a chance to make new contacts, take a proactive approach. Peter Post (Emily’s grandson) says, “Go in with an attitude that says you’re going to participate, you’re going to be willing to go up and introduce yourself to people and start conversations.”
It takes guts to approach strangers, but if you do it with charm, those you meet will be impressed by your sociability.
Post recommends four actions to ensure a positive first impression:
• Stand up to get on eye level with the person.
• Look them in the eye.
• Give a firm handshake, but don’t “bone crush” them. Keep your shoulders and feet oriented toward the person.
• Repeat the person’s name and say you’re pleased to meet them.
Fine-tune and rehearse your self-introduction, a 10-second or less sound-bite (elevator speech) that includes your first and last name and a snippet of background information to kindle conversation.
Example: Hello, I’m Denise Kersten, a careers columnist for USATODAY.com.
Introducing others will make you seem gracious and well connected, but be sure to follow the proper protocol.
In social situations the order in which you introduce two people is based on gender and age (women and older people first).
In business settings the order is determined by rank.
Introduce the lower-ranking person to the higher-ranking person, then reverse the order, so you say each person’s name two times.
Try to add an interesting tidbit to start the conversation. If you were introducing Mrs. Smith, a vice president of the company, to Mr. Jones, a junior associate, for example, you might say:
If you are unsure who the more important person is, default to the gender and age guideline.
Don’t panic if you forget a name. Most people will be happy to remind you and appreciate the introduction.
Conversation is more like a tennis match than a golf game. Hitting the ball too many times in a row is a serious faux pas. Instead, try to establish a back-and-forth volley.
Asking questions about the other person’s background and mentioning that interesting item you read in the newspaper are tried and-true chat starters or icebreakers. Stay away from politically
charged or sensitive topics with people you’ve just met.
Also avoid alienating individuals with different professional backgrounds.
Stay away from industry language and acronyms. It may make you make you feel plugged in, but it can turn-off uninitiated listeners.
If you succeed at establishing rapport with a new contact, you may ask for their business card and offer yours. But only do so in the context of building a mutually-beneficial relationship, or you may
come across as pushy.
We all make etiquette slip-ups from time to time. Even Peter Post admits to the occasional oversight. But you can minimize the damage with a sincere apology.
“Acknowledge your mistake. Don’t try to put it off on somebody else. Accept it as your mistake. Then correct it,” Post says.
For the less serious offenses a simple “excuse me” goes a long way.
Denise Kersten – USATODAY.com
Dana May Casperson – Author of Power Etiquette:
What You Don’t Know Can Kill Your Career