By Rachel Cox
We know that leaving a positive first impression is important and can lead to abundant potential for future opportunities, however, for some people, building a connection upon first encounters doesn’t come easy and can cause quite a bit of stress. Who here has forgotten to listen to a person’s name right as they introduce themselves?
It’s no surprise that if it doesn’t come naturally to you, conversations with new people can be scary, tedious, or lack intellectual connection.
Whether you engage with someone by chance, are pitching to media, networking, following potential new business leads, connecting with colleagues or trying to win over the local barista, my tips and tactics below will prepare you to leave a lasting first impression.
- Always smile and make eye contact – Now, more than ever, people are unlikely to want to get too close or shake hands. Approach people with welcoming body language and ensure you respect their personal space while still getting close enough to have a strong presence.
- Enquire about them, thoughtfully – Nobody enjoys waffle conversation, but this is not to be confused with polite small talk. Ask what someone is up to but make it personable; ‘what’s been happening’ isn’t likely to produce a response beyond “not much” or “same old” – riveting. Discuss projects, relevant news, engaging topics and if it’s a work connection, display your understanding of their role, business or interests.
- Be personal, but not too personal – Break the ice by asking relevant questions such as how their most recent project/campaign/story went, how long have they been in the business, what’s their go-to coffee order and where do they like to get it from – these are ice breakers to developing a gentle connection that may give you valuable insights for the future.
- Listen to understand, not to respond – We are all guilty of occasionally talking over the top of others as if word vomit is bursting thoughts and ideas out of our mouths. Pause, listen to each word that is being said, absorb it, formulate a response, then speak. If your idea or response is strong enough it will cement in your brain for more than 3 seconds, in fact it may improve based on the information currently being relayed to you.
- Be prepared – Prior to meeting someone for the first time, create a clear agenda and come prepared with questions to ask. This will not only benefit your understanding and deepen your knowledge on the subject or person, but it also displays consideration for the other party. Don’t forget to be armed with your own answers, too, to the questions you might be asked. It’s a two way conversation, after all!
- Know your audience – Address people by their names. I am guilty of asking names and forgetting the moment I’m told – I’m aware of it and working on it. There are so many tricks out there, I find saying their name back to them in a sentence more than once works best. The same rule applies in relation to your dress code. In a widely casual yet fashion forward industry, ensure you know if the person you’re meeting with will be shocked by your pants that resemble trackies paired with chunky, fashion-victim sneakers. There is a time and a place for everything but the board room isn’t always a wise place to trial your new designer denim with the rips around the derrière.
- Use relevant language – PRs and marketers LOVE jargon. Make yourself easy to understand by using universally recognised words and phrases. Don’t presume that whoever you are meeting with is going to know what you mean when your say ‘draft matrix’ – are you re-writing The Matrix for them or their business? No. So, be clear.
- Back yourself and your ideas – Have confidence without being cocky. Working in a creative industry such as PR means that businesses engage you and your team for your creativity and expertise, let it shine and don’t be scared to throw your hat in the ring.
- Represent your own brand and the brand you work for – A business is only as good as it’s people and people are only as good as their last project. Make sure everything you are saying and doing is something you believe in and realistically feel you will be able to achieve, for the sake of your own reputation and of the business or brand you work for. Don’t promise the world and then under deliver.
- Follow up – Don’t slip into the deep abyss of people that were once met and never heard from again (until a favour is needed). Acknowledge your meeting, outline and action any next steps and thank them for their time. Time is an invaluable resource and should be respected to the upmost degree.