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6 First Impression Fails

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Whether at a conference, a social event, or in an interview, you have just a few seconds to create a good impression.

You can't fight science and change neural signals generated by peoples' primitive brains that tell them whether they instantly like you, fear you, or just aren't sure about you. However, you can consciously manage the verbal and visual cues you send upon a first meeting that can turn the tide in your favour.

Making a positive first impression can be difficult. Here are six common first impression fails and what you can do to avoid them.

Fail #1: Unchecked nerves can make you sound like a wind up toy

Upon a first meeting (or before a presentation), your blood pressure may rise and your pulse may quicken causing you to breathe inconsistently as you fight to gain more oxygen. You may blush or even start to perspire. The more you try to control it, the worse it becomes and your adrenalin flow accelerates. The redness worsens, your speech speeds up, and you feel you cannot stop talking, making it hard for the other person to get a word in.

Solution: To calm yourself, focus on your breathing. Feel your feet squarely under you on the floor so that you are anchored and can generate an even, consistent oxygen flow through your body. Don't rock or fidget, which may involve tugging on your jacket sleeve or touching your face or hair. Smile and take a sincere interest in the person you are meeting by listening carefully and using open body language. Count to three before responding to a question or making a follow up comment. Slow things down and you will feel your system recalibrating to a more comfortable level.

Fail #2: Asking too many questions

No one likes to feel they are taking the witness stand as they are peppered with personal and business questions early in a conversation. When you accelerate the conversation too quickly with a barrage of questions, you may appear nervous and trying to deflect any questions about yourself. This can raise suspicion while creating an awkward conversation. Taking an interest in a person is one thing, but trying to compile a docier on them as quickly as possible is another.

Solution: Look at the situation as a give and take with your conversational partner. Balanced conversations should be like a friendly tennis or ping pong rally as the ball moves back and forth at the same speed.

Fail #3: Attire and grooming pitfalls

Your appearance may be the only information someone has about you when you first meet. The first things people notice are your eyes, hands, and shoes. Not taking care of your appearance indicates a potential lack of caring about how you conduct yourself in business.

Solution: If you wear glasses, invest in good quality frames that mirror your profession and personality without going over the top so that all people recall are your fluorescent frames (unless you are in the fashion or entertainment industry). Polished shoes communicate your attention to detail as does ensuring your hands and hair are well maintained. The value of a bright smile revealing attractive teeth can never be over-estimated while poor dental maintenance will work against you, regardless of your winning personality or intelligence.

Fail #4: Not checking your volume or whispering

Either speaking too loudly or so softly that you can't be heard can be disconcerting, not to mention the difficulty of carrying on a conversation. Talking loudly when you meet someone for the first time isn't being confident or assertive, it's just being obnoxious. A person once told me she speaks very softly to force people to listen to her in social situations. I am guessing there is a lot lost in transmission.

Solution: Save the booming voice for the speaker's podium and remember that coming on strong will alienate others instantly. If you have a soft voice and are in a noisy room, stand a little closer to the person and tell them that you sometimes have difficulty being heard. They will respect your honesty and you will have an intelligible (versus hit and miss) conversation.

Fail #5: Dropping names

Listing every person you know at the event, including the organizers/host is a mediocre way to impress someone and try to get the upper hand. Meeting someone for the first time is not the time for self-justification and promotion. It communicates insecurity and an unnecessary spirit of competitiveness and makes every one uncomfortable.

Solution: Let others hear about your great connections from someone else, or if one walks up and joins the conversation.

Fail #6: Contradicting yourself

You may be nervous and contradict yourself without meaning to mislead another person. Or, you may like to stretch the truth and in your excitement forget what you told a person two minutes ago. This goes a long way in blowing your credibility.

For example, saying that you just returned from skiing in Colorado and then quickly talking about a Whistler ski holiday will confuse a listener. (If you holiday in both locations, so much the better.) People pay close attention to small details when they first meet you as they are trying to get a sense of your credibility, which will affect the level of trust you earn in a matter of minutes.

Solution: As Quintillian, the Roman rhetorician observed, "A liar should have a good memory." Better yet, don't lie or stretch the truth when you meet someone new. It has a way of creeping up on you.

You have very little time before people form an impression of you. Your personal reputation may precede you and people have made their decision before meeting you. The quality of the impression you create will determine how quickly they bring you into their circle and start to form a professional, social, or personal relationship - if you decide you want to join in one.