How to make a good first impression: the 2 key elements

If you’re like me, you’ve read dozens of social skills articles about different “types” of handshakes and giving out business cards. It’s ridiculous — once you figure out which hand to use, it’s pretty hard to mess up a handshake. And “business cards” don’t count as a skill. So how do you really make a better first impression?

After working with thousands of students to improve their social skills, I’ve found 3 key areas to improve that produce 90% of the results. Without these, everything else goes unnoticed.

The 3 staples for a good first impression are:

  1. Body language
  2. Having memorable answers to standard questions
  3. How you introduce yourself and others

Master these, and you can leave your business cards at home.

Staple #1: Body language

People have come up with all sorts of weird tricks for improving your body language. Google “body language,” and you’ll learn all sort of interesting new words: mirroring, foot direction, power posing. Stuff nobody in the real world cares about or notices.

The only thing you really need to remember is the “SETHI Technique.”

Smile. If you’re not used to smiling, it can feel totally unnatural. Practice letting your smile “fill your face.”

Energy. Take whatever level you’re at, and add 50% more energy into your voice and movement. What feels weird to you is NORMAL to everyone else.

Talk slowly. Slow down what you’re saying by 50%. It will feel sluggish, but this is perfect for everyone else. Enunciate your words to help slow down.

Hands. Experiment with your hands to find your comfort zone when speaking. How do you feel when you leave yourself more “open,” or gesture more?

“I” – Eye contact. Study how socially skilled people use eye contact. How long do they look at someone? Where do they look after disconnecting? By testing, you’ll find what works for you.

Don’t try to work on every one of these basics at the same time. Take apart your body language piece by piece to improve — this isn’t a race. Try one improvement the next time you go out until you feel comfortable, then move on to the next.

Staple #2: Being memorable

It doesn’t matter if you’re meeting friends of friends, or attending a work conference, everyone asks the same question when they meet someone for the first time. Yet, even though we know what to expect, no one prepares memorable responses to make a good impression.

Don’t make that mistake. Take a few minutes to come up with intriguing answers to the most common “nice to meet you” questions. You don’t need to be clever. All you want is to be interesting and make people comfortable talking with you.

Let’s break down responses to the most common question:

“So, what do you do?”

Bad Example:

“Well, at my day job I’m a consultant, but I also started this marketing side business, and I wrote a book and published it online, too, and on Thursday nights I…”

Why it’s not memorable:

No one needs your life story. Cramming in your bio when you’ve just met someone will overwhelm them.

Another Bad Example:

“I’m an account executive at MediaVest.”

Why it’s not memorable:

Don’t just blurt your title and company and expect people to be interested. The exception is if you work at a company most people do know (“You work at Twitter? That’s got to be pretty cool.”).

Good Examples:

  • “I help authors market and manage their businesses.”
  • “I work on keeping families together.”
  • “I design logos for Fortune 500 companies.”

Why it’s memorable:

Instead of role and company, think about what you do, and who you do it for. This takes the abstract (like a job title) and makes it “real” for your audience.

How do know if your response is engaging? You test. I tested telling people I was a writer, a blogger, and an author for months before learning what worked and what didn’t.

Finally, if 90% people lead with “What do you do?”, what’s the easiest way to stand out? Don’t ask this question right away!

Instead, make your introductions “hook” the listener to want to learn more about you than what you do and where you’re from.

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