I remember growing up and hearing how very important it was to always make a good first impression. Make sure to say “yes ma’am” and “no sir,” “please” and “thank you.” I grew up placing such a strong emphasis on shaking hands firmly–which in turn led me to always notice when someone shook my hand like a limp fish. Needless to say, making a good first impression was instilled in me at a young age. The tricky part is, I encounter people all the time who don’t know how to shake hands properly, have no filter on what they say and don’t say, and simply have no care in the world for first impressions. So my question to you is, how important is the first impression you make?
In the PR world, very. In nearly every life situation, you have one shot to make it or break it. You can either come across as your awesome, smart, ambitious, fabulous self, or you can come across as a wimpy, shy, uncertain, uninteresting person who really needs a boost in the how-to-make-a-good-first-impression department. Clearly, the latter isn’t the picture you want to paint. One way to think about it is to put yourself in the shoes of the person you are meeting. How do you want to come across to them? What do you want them to see and hear? What do you want them to remember about you when you walk away? Here are some basic rules of thumb to go by.
- Take a look in the mirror first. Do you have food in your teeth from lunch? Is your belt sideways? Is your shirt untucked a little in the back? Do you have toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your shoe? Do you need to run a comb through your hair? Wash your hands? Have a Tic-Tac? Simply looking yourself over to make sure you are just as you want to appear is key. Let’s face it. If you’re talking to a guy who has a chunk of spinach in his teeth from lunch, chances are you’ll be very distracted and will leave the meeting only to remember him later on as Mr. Spinach Teeth. Yuck.
- Shake hands firmly. Like I said, no one likes to shake hands with a limp fish. There is no difference anymore between shaking hands with a man or a woman. Throw that old idea out the window. Don’t go crazy with a handshake that rips the other person’s fingers off–instead, have a presence and let that person know that you mean business.
- Be prepared. Is this a business meeting? If so, do your homework. Make sure you are prepared in case someone throws something your way. Basically, know your stuff.
- Watch your body language. Do you tend to slouch in chairs? Do you tend to cross your arms? When you slouch or cross your arms, you can seem closed off, uninterested and unapproachable. If you are interested and open, appear so. And of course, smiling always helps.
- Bring business cards. If you don’t already do this then you should. Make sure to always have business cards on hand–no matter where you go. For instance, say you meet someone new at a baseball game or attend a luncheon and they ask for your business card. You don’t want to be the one thinking, “Darnit! I can’t believe I forgot those…” Don’t lose your chance and send a great opportunity straight down the drain.
By remembering these five simple tasks, you’re sure to be on the right track to making a great first impression. You can’t possibly predict who you’ll meet and when. It’s all about personal public relations. Market yourself the way you want to be seen and remembered.