Today I volunteered judging at a local high school business role play presentation competition called DECA. I was really fun. As I was judging the various presentations by students I started to notice many of the small things these students did correctly and incorrectly that influenced my impression of them. As I watched more closely I started to pick up things I need to refine more myself when making a first impression. As I thought more about my experience today I created a list that I realized I or anyone could use to create a great first impression when first meeting a potential customer.
Here is the list I developed today from watching some very smart and talented high school students.
1. Start with eye contact
This seems simple, and really all of this blog post is simple stuff, but I think it sometimes gets taken for granted. Before even talking or extending a hand it is critical to make eye contact with the person you are approaching. Eye contact lets the other person know you acknowledge them. I had a few students who moved forward without making eye contact and it was very awkward. When I thought about why it was awkward it was because there was not that initial non-verbal acknowledgement to each other that we were going to interact.
2. Open with a strong hand shake and confidently state your name
I found some of the students shook my hand and others did not. The ones who did I felt acknowledged, accepted and that there was an immediate level of rapport, with those that did not I felt like there was a lack of rapport, I even felt a little rejected even though I know that was not the students intent. If that is the feeling a buyer has when I meet them and don't share their hand that is definitely not a good thing. I found those who stated their name I also felt I had a better connection with. It was a little thing but I felt much more connected and interested if they said their name, because I knew who they were.
3. Ask for the other person's name
What was even more interesting is that some people who stated their name never asked for mine. Although those that stated their name I had more interest and rapport with, if they asked for my name that significantly increased the rapport I felt with the student versus those that only stated their name. From this I concluded that stating your name and asking for the potential customers is absolutely critical in any interaction if you want to make a great first impression and build rapport.
3. Be confident
I found as I listened to the students the amount of confidence they projected radically influenced my perception of them. I found that students who had solid ideas but lacked confidence I thought lesser of and those that had great confidence but maybe even slightly weaker ideas I thought higher of. I realized I was largely influenced by the confidence the student projected and less by the content to my dismay. I think this is natural and it made me realize projecting confidence may be even more important then the content when first meeting a potential customer.
4. Speak slowly
I found the student who spoke slowly had less problems stumbling when they talked or creating awkward pauses. This projected a strong sense of professionalism, charisma and were just overall more enjoyable to listen to and engaging. I realized when I am talking to people I should really probably speak slower and in more condensed sentences.
5. Smile a lot
I could not believe how much of a difference a smile made. With the students who smiled I was much more engaged and and felt like I was having fun. When they smiled it forced me to smile and to feel good. At the end of the day I realized the presentation I enjoyed the most and remembered the most was the one where I smiled the most.
6. Maintain good eye contact
The students that looked me in the eye when they presented made me feel like they knew what they were talking about. Those that did not look me in the eye made me question if they knew their stuff. When they looked me in the eye it also forced me to pay attention. I realized the times I was not listening to the students' presentations was only when I was not looking at them. There was never a point throughout the whole day when I was looking a student in the eye and not listening or paying attention to them.
7. When you break eye contact look only slightly to the left or right
I had two students look at two different places while presenting which I noticed really affected my perception of them. One looked over his shoulder twice or three times and it made me think he was not interested in his presentation or not interested in talk to me. The other student kept looking slightly down when he broke eye contact which was very distracting. What happened was I started to think about if he was looking at my name badge. As a result my mind kept wondering what he was looking at and I was completely not paying attention. I have therefore concluded that I think what is probably is the best is to look to the slight left or slight right of the person when talking as you can not maintain constant eye contact as it is too intense and becomes awkward. Any further movement in where you point your eyes will distract and make the other person wonder why and what you are looking at.
8. Avoid pausing language
I know I am sometimes not good at this but today was a good reminder why I need to improve on this. Most of the students did a great job not using any pausing sounds like "um" or "ah", which made those students that did use them stand out like a sore thumb. Those that did use them seem unprofessional while those that didn't appeared polished and professional.
9. Avoid non specific language or weak language
Many of the students used phrases such as "and etc etc" or "and other things". When they used phrases like this I found myself questioning what they were referring to and if they really had other ideas or just said that to make me think they did. It also made me question the strength of their proposal because I felt like it was incomplete. I then realized I often use similar phrases which probably has a negative affect on my first impression with other people. I also heard many of the students say "you could do" or "maybe you should". As a judge when I heard this I felt the student was not sure himself or herself it was the right thing to do. What I wanted to hear was what they would recommend I do and state it with confidence. I then realized I often use this same type of language with potential clients when I should be phrasing recommendations as recommendations.
10. Have good posture
This means sitting up straight with your chest slightly out and your shoulders back. With a slouched back or rounded shoulders it communicates a lack of confidence. I found students who had good posture I just naturally respected more. I assume this is because I perceived them as being more confident and smart.
11. Use slow deliberate body gestures
I found students who made fast movement of fidgeting body movements to be distracting. I missed what they said because I was watching what they were doing. On the other hand students who made slow deliberate body movement to accentuate a point actually increased my interest and I became more engaged.
12. Be relaxed, having fun and enjoying the moment
It was so easy to tell who was relaxed because they were having fun! And you know what, when I was judging students who were having fun, I had more fun. The reversed happened as well, when I was really enjoying myself and being excited to judge the students seemed to have more fun. It was contagious. I realized I need to be having more fun and enjoying the moment when meeting with potential clients. If a potential client has a great time talking with me they will be all that more likely to be willing to talk again.
Today I realized how I often take the simple things for granted in a first interaction and I don't pay enough attention to the small details. I noticed how making small improvements to the smallest of actions can have huge affects on the impression I make or someone else makes on me. If I can focus on each of the above items and do not just a good job, but and outstanding job of each, I know the first impression I make will exponentially better then the impression I normally make. Hopefully you can use some of the information from my experience today to improve the first impressions you make with potential customers or just any new person you happen to meet.