Key learning outcomes:

  • Recognise that your first impression may be a lasting impression.
  • Learn some of the tricks for ensuring you make a good impression every time.
  • Adopt such techniques as punctuality, politeness, eye contact, smiling and smart appearance to ensure you get off to a good start.
  • Develop research and relaxation skills to improve your initial interactions with people.


That old saying is true; you will never get a second chance to make a first impression, so it is important to make it count. In business and in life generally, you will be put in many situations where you meet someone for the first time that you would like to impress. It might be an interview with a prospective employer or client, a networking opportunity or meeting your future in-laws for the first time. Regardless of the circumstances, the better prepared you are, the better impression you are going to make.

Seven-second rule

Research indicates that it takes only seven seconds for us to make an assessment of someone we meet for the first time. Our brains work overtime to determine if we think this is someone we can like or trust. Our instincts will be working to see if we should take the time to get to know the person better or if we should take flight. This is how the human brain has worked since the beginning of time as a survival mechanism, despite the fact that some people state they take their time to sum people up. The following are some tips and guidelines to help you to make the best impression.

Attitude is everything

People are able to pick up on your attitude before anything else. It is important to match your attitude to the occasion. Before going into a meeting think about what attitude you need to project. In a networking situation you want to be open and outgoing, but this may not be appropriate in a situation where you are meeting with a financier about investing in your business. People will see and feel your attitude and demeanour before you even open your mouth, so it is important to ensure you project the image that you want the other person to see.

Be on time

Regardless of the occasion, when you are meeting someone for the first time you need to be punctual. There is no good excuse for being late. Ensure that you leave yourself enough time in case the traffic is heavy or there are other unexpected delays. Pre-plan so you know where you are going, and where to park, for example.  You don’t want to feel stressed before you get to where you are going.

Being early is far better than being late; however, being too early for a meeting is not a good thing. It can catch the person off guard and unprepared, and create stress or put pressure on the person because they are keeping you waiting. Instead, sit in the car or find somewhere to wait other than in the reception area.

If you are going to be late due to circumstances beyond your control, ring the person well in advance to let them know and give them the option to reschedule. You should never assume it will be okay to be late.


A smile is a universal sign of friendship and welcome. A nice smile when you meet someone for the first time will put you both at ease. Be careful not to go overboard as you do not want to be grinning from ear to ear for the entire meeting or it might seem like you are not taking the business at hand seriously. Practise smiling at strangers on a daily basis; you will see that it is almost impossible for them not to smile back.

Eye contact

When you are meeting someone for the first time, making eye contact is essential. By looking someone in the eye you are showing that you are interested in what they are saying. One trick that will get you into the habit of looking people in the eye is to try and pick the eye colour of everyone you meet.

Body language

Your non-verbal communication will often speak louder than your words. It is important to be conscious of how you are standing and sitting. Make sure you are standing tall and that your posture is good, as this will project confidence and authority. Shaking hands is another great way to start building rapport and it is important to practise a nice firm handshake, but not so firm that it makes the other person feel uncomfortable.

Research has shown that positive body language translates to a more confident performance, so if necessary spend a couple of minutes before heading into the meeting ensuring you feel strong and in control.

Be appropriate

Your physical appearance will have a large impact on your first impression. You should ensure you dress appropriately for the occasion or situation. Think about what the person you are meeting is likely to be wearing. For example, if you are meeting with a creative person, a suit and tie might not be appropriate; likewise, if you are meeting a group of executives, an open-neck shirt or jeans would not be the best choice. Think about your jewellery and accessories. In many cases, the less is more strategy works with accessories, as you do not want them to distract the person from what you are saying.

You should also consider your grooming. You want to ensure there are no distractions, such as dirty shoes, a shirt with a stain or a body odour, which might change the person’s focus or detracts from your overall presentation.

Be polite

Good manners and common courtesy have not gone out of fashion, and they certainly contribute to a good first impression. Remember to thank the person for taking the time to see you before getting down to business. Research shows that thanking the person in the first instance will not only help to build rapport and trust but also will influence the person to respond more positively to your request.

If you take your mobile phone into a meeting ensure that it is already switched off. There is nothing more distracting than hearing a buzzing mobile phone during a meeting.


Doing some pre-work on what you are going to say will help you to feel more comfortable when you get face-to-face with the person. Some prior research on the person will enable you to find some common ground or interests and open up with some small talk to aid rapport-building. Keep an eye on current events so you sound knowledgeable and are able to respond appropriately if the person brings them up.

Additionally, have a think about what types of questions you are going to ask during the meeting. If it is a formal meeting where you will be taking some notes, there is nothing wrong with having some questions or reminders written down to give you some direction and focus.

Be yourself

One of the most important things to remember is to be yourself. If you are trying to be someone that you are not, you will probably be perceived as being uncomfortable and the person will pick up on that immediately. The other person in turn will feel ill at ease, making the meeting less successful than it could have been.

Making a good first impression is easier for some people than for others. If meeting people for the first time is something that you find difficult, it is worthwhile working on some relaxation techniques along with using these guidelines to ensure you always put your best foot forward.

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