The Challenge of Perception: First Impressions

If it only takes someone a 20th of a second to judge a person’s sexual orientation, how long will you allocate to the decision of how capable I am?

In my previous post I made a reference to the importance of first impressions and the difficulty of changing them.  First impression is a mental image of you, an opinion of you, a perception of you, that is formed in the first 7 to 17 seconds of meeting you.  Although you have no control over how the other person perceives you, you have control over how you present yourself.   

Over the years I have learned a thing or two about overcoming the challenge of my personality.  Now I do so well, I can’t remember the last time anyone called me a bitch.  I mean, how cold can I appear, if the CEO set down next to me at the rally the other day?

First of all, I have learned that the key to making a great first impressions is the same as the key to succeeding at just about everything else – preparation.  Being ready for an opportunity is what gives you the power to take advantage of it.

The problem with first impressions is that they do not happen on your schedule.  You cannot predict when you will encounter someone, who you will need to make a strong impression on.  Thus, you need to be reasonably ready at all times.  It is really not as hard as you may imagine.  Once your personal brand is defined, your overall message becomes inadvertently consistent – you look the part, you act the part, you talk the part.

  • Know who you are.  This will give you the confidence to be yourself, which, in turn, will ensure that you are comfortable and come across genuine.   In the end, accurate impressions may be more important than good.
  • Have your elevator speech memorized.  It outlines the main points of discussion.
  • Determine your purpose and goals. This will help you define the scope of the conversation, stay on point, and avoid wasting time on non-relevant subjects.
  • Make eye contact. Smile. Shake hands.  There is some undefined, unlimited, magical power in all three of those .
  • Don’t wear sweatpants (or a robe for that matter), unless you are meeting your personal trainer at the gym.  On the other hand, I don’t think it is crucial to stay in the box of neutral androgyny that pops up on Google Images, when you search for “business attire”.
  • Show your enthusiasm.  Be happy to meet them; be the first one to ask their name; be interested in what they are currently challenged with; laugh at their joke attempts; act like they matter.

Fine, I did not muster up the nerve to shake the CEO’s hand, but I swear I was contemplating it the whole time.  And I know I would have done just fine, if I did speak to him.  Because I am ready.  I  am ready to sit in the front row.  I am ready to be treated as equally professional.  I am ready for the next challenge.

Are you ready for your next first impression challenge?  Remember, you may never be able to change the image that the new awesome person you meet today has of you.  Make it unforgettable.

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