Everyone has heard it before. First impressions are the lasting ones. But, if you’re bad at first impressions, they can be lasting and painful. I can still remember middle school me trying to impress my friends by talking to the cute girl at the mall. The stain on my shirt mixed with my stuttering incoherent babble plays in my mind like some sort of bad 16 Candles coming of age movie scene ripoff. Still, those stories of bitter embarrassment started me on a journey to making better first impressions. After decades of reflection, I know there are millions of ways to make a great first impression, but there are two things separating the smooth from the nerdy, the pros from the wannabes, and the successful from the overeager, stained-shirt middle schoolers.
#1: Be Authentic
Famous blues harmonica player Junior Wells said, “I say what I mean, and I mean what I say.” This blues legend played straightforward funky blues, with straightforward riffs, and straightforward lyrics. When he stepped on stage to make his first impressions, people knew he was for real. He was an authentic blues legend. So, how did he do it? How did he show us he was for real? First, Wells knew his strengths and he knew his identity. He knew how to blow funky harp, he knew he was a blues man, and every show, he pushed his identity out there.
For great first impressions, we need to have a firm grasp on our strengths and other core components contributing to our identities. Then, we can push those out to the people we meet. If you are sincere, be sincere. If you are funny, be funny. If you are the nerdy research-and-strategy type (aka, Executive Suite Communication’s founder, Virginia Santy), embrace it. Too often, we try to mimic others. We try to be someone we’re not. Be authentic. Know your strengths, know your identity, and share these things with the people you meet.
#2: Be Present
Newscaster Dan Harris says in his book 10% Happier, “When you have one foot in the future and the other in the past, you piss on the present.” Kind of a visually abrupt metaphor, but true all the same. If you’re thinking too much about what’s coming, or if you’re thinking too much about where you’ve been, you can’t stay focused on what’s happening right now. To make a strong first impression, you need to listen and engage. This means focusing wholeheartedly on the present. Don’t think about the impression you need to make. Don’t worry about what will happen if you mess up. Let go of bad impressions from your past. If you forget about planning, worrying, and dwelling, and focus on the simple interaction of listening and responding, you’ll come away looking mindful, attentive, and genuine.
Easier Said Than Done
If positive first impressions were truly as easy as remembering two things, everyone could do it, yet I still see a lot of awkward middle schooler moments, even among professional adults. Being authentic and present requires reflection, intention, identity, and constant adjustment, but with all this work comes the great reward of positive, lasting first impressions.
For help with your great first impressions, communication, personal branding, strategy, executive leadership, and more, contact Executive Suite Communication. Let us put our nerdy, research-and-strategy brains to work for your business and your brand.