5 ways to make a great first impression

However much you may like to think of yourself as non-judgemental, the truth is first impressions play a major role in the way we see and relate to those we meet. Research shows that it can take as little as seven seconds for people to form an opinion of who we are. Which means if you want potential customers, interviewers or networking professionals to come away with a good impression, you need to make sure you’re hitting the right note.

This article explores everything from positive social cues to effective introductions and explains how to leave everyone you meet with a lasting impression.

1. Smile

It may sound obvious, but there’s a reason why smiling is first on this list. Smiling is perhaps the most important social cue of all, and is found in ancestral cousins like chimpanzees and Japanese macaques.

Facial expressions are very important when meeting someone for the first time. Multiple studies have shown that smiling not only makes you more likable but can make your interactions more memorable. A study conducted at the University of Florence showed socially positive signals like smiling could foster stronger memories. Which means showing your pearly whites at networking events can help you forge longer-lasting impressions and separate you from the crowd during interviews or business proposals.

2. Handshake

The handshake is an important part of business etiquette and is used internationally as a formal greeting. You might be rolling your eyes at this, but getting a handshake wrong can make or break a first impression – too hard and your handshake will come across overly aggressive, too weak and you’ll forever be known as a damp squib.

When meeting people for the first time, try to toe the line between squeezing their hand and offering them a limp handshake. Often the best option is to moderate yours to suit those you meet. If someone grips your hand tightly, reflect this in your handshake. If someone takes your hand weakly, temper your grip so you’re not crushing their hand.

If you’re unsure about how much pressure to use or whether you’re sending out the wrong signals, ask people you trust what they think of your handshake and what you should do to improve.

3. Body language

Power stances are everywhere nowadays. Politicians use them to convey authority during public speeches and female powerhouses like Beyoncé regularly feature them in their choreography. However, using a power stance in a professional setting is usually a bad idea and will probably make you look more awkward than confident. What you want to do is strike a balance between posturing yourself confidently and employing open-posture techniques.

Open postures are the antithesis of crossed arms or clenched fists and portray friendliness and positivity, making those around you feel at ease. Combining an open posture with a confident stance is a good middle ground, and will convey a sense of authority without appearing domineering. Good examples of strong yet open postures include sitting up straight with your hands on your lap or standing, shoulders relaxed, with you hands by your sides.

Focusing on how you comport yourself while maintaining a natural stance will help you come across more confident and self-assured without looking awkward or contrived. Open posture techniques will also help you endear yourself to those you meet.

4. Eye contact

Maintaining eye contact when you first meet someone sends all the right signals: it shows you’re interested in what they’re saying, demonstrates confidence and can help you engender a sense of connection. To effectively maintain eye contact with someone, you need to make sure you’re looking straight into their eyes, blinking normally, and reacting to what they say.

While eye contact is an important part of non-verbal communication. Unlike smiling, maintaining eye contact can mean different things in different parts of the world. Therefore, if your work takes you abroad, remember to research the traditions and customs of the places you visit and adjust your behaviour accordingly. For example, maintaining eye contact with social superiors in some parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America can be seen as disrespectful.

5. Goodbyes

At the end of an interview or business meeting, you’ve probably made a firm impression already. But that doesn’t mean you can’t continue to endear those you meet after leaving.

Business cards can be personalised to make your interactions even more memorable and help you stand out from the crowd. The rules for offering business cards vary from country to county, but the general rule is to offer them only when someone asks for your contact details. This will make you look prepared and show you don’t hand out your card without discretion.

Quality business cards are surprisingly easy to come by as long as you pay attention to your design. An expensive card will look terrible if you send your supplier something you drew on the back of a napkin, and vice-versa. Make sure to consult an artistically inclined friend or colleague if you’re unsure, or draw inspiration from some of the many great examples available online. As for suppliers, I like using Honeytree, but the market is competitive and others are widely available.

To sum up, making a good impression is important in the world of business, but it isn’t as hard as many suspect. The key to impressing those you meet can be as simple as smiling, offering a firm handshake and maintaining eye contact. Focusing on these smaller details will help you endear yourself during professional interactions and make sure you’re always putting your best foot forwards.

By James Murray, Outreach and Content Executive, Affinity Agency