Five Keys to Making a Good Impression

Let's get something straight. I don't suggest you live your life trying to make everyone like you all the time. You'll be miserable. I also don't suggest spending all your time thinking about yourself. However, life is a balancing act. You should spend some time thinking about how to make a good impression and how to modify your behavior when necessary.

Making a good impression is not just about business and networking--although that's a big deal. It stems into all of our interpersonal interactions. In my opinion, most people are fairly nice, well-meaning, and even skillful; but that might not be enough. You have to communicate that to the people around you. 

Communicating who you are has two angles--honesty and self-assessment. The honesty part means you will not fake being someone you are not in order to impress someone or gain something from them. The self-assessment part means that if you realize that you have areas of your public persona that require improvement, you should make those improvements in order to become a better overall person. This will automatically help you make a better impression.

Perhaps you've heard this before, but it's worth hearing again. Communication is 90% non-verbal. That means your mouth only accounts for 10% of what people are "hearing" from you. You communicate in many other ways, and these can make or break your impression.

Here are some very basic tips I've have learned for making a good impression:

#1 Smile.

Perhaps you're not the most confident person. That's okay. Maybe you have some negative opinions about your appearance--forget about them. The best way to make a good impression, in my opinion, is to let your "real smile" show. Don't force it, don't fake it, and don't shy away. If you are happy to meet someone, smile at them. If you think something is funny, smile. I know meeting new people can be nerve-racking, but smiling will actually help you relax! Whether for business or personal reasons, let people know you are human and smile

Days and weeks after your meeting, people are more likely to remember your emotional responses than the words you said. Don't stress so much about trying to say exactly the right things. Instead, put emphasis on communicating to them that you like being alive.

#2 Make eye contact.

So much is communicated by solid eye contact. I don't mean weird staring, gazing, or burning holes in people. But making regular eye contact makes a good impression. It tells someone that you know they're there and you have made them a priority at that moment. If you're talking to multiple people, you'll need to dish out the eye contact to all of them throughout your encounter. It also displays confidence in yourself. You don't need to be arrogant--just sure of yourself. You know who you are and what you're capable of.

Eyes can also communicate emotion like nothing else. If you want to let someone know you care, eye contact will help you. They will see it in your eyes. Are you serious? It will be in your eyes. Are you having a good time? Your eyes will tell the story. But if you never look at people, they won't know what's going on with you. They won't remember you, and your impression will quickly fade.

#3 Dress well.

Say what you want, but what you wear matters. You can be the most "fair-minded" and "equality-driven" person in the world, but you will still delineate between people based on their attire. Your clothing communicates before you ever speak or make eye contact. Most likely, attire and body language (#5) will be the first things people notice about you.

This can be tricky sometimes, because you don't want to give the wrong impression with your clothes. You CAN over-dress. You need to have some insight into what type of encounter you will have. If it's a scheduled meeting, try to figure out what is appropriate to wear. You can also under-dress. This tells people you're not very serious about yourself and about whatever is going on. If you show up to a wedding in a hoody and sneakers, it sends a message. If you show up to a casual lunch wearing a tuxedo because you think you're Clark Kent, you send another kind of message.

People don't judge everything about you based on your clothing, but it will leave an impression in their mind. They might not remember where they met you, but they will remember whether you were dressed appropriately or not. Guys, some of you need extra help dressing like a decent human. Find somebody to help you. Don't stumble through life in your comfy couch clothes hoping to fall into success. Unless you're a genius or a drug dealer, that won't happen.

#4 Make conversation.

This is tough business. It requires work. You have to think with your brain (redundancy intended). You will need to assess people and make some guesses about what they might be interested in talking about. Don't let silence cripple you. I know it's awkward. We've all been there. If you're at a loss, bring up something casual to talk about and let them drive the conversation for a minute. If you actually listen to people and have a decent knowledge base, you should be able to carry conversations long enough to get everybody enjoying the moment. Conversations can be fun, even with strangers.

Again, negativity can stifle conversation. Don't bring up all your pet peeves and jump on a soapbox. That's not a conversation. You can rant a little here and there for fun, but use discretion. When you start seeing people looking very uninterested, dismiss your rant. Another way negativity can get in the way is if you don't think much of yourself. You think you don't know anything, and nobody will care what you have to say. Not true. Even if you're a high school dropout, you know something about something. You might even know a lot about something, or something about a lot of things. So talk about it.

Perhaps this should have come first, but ask questions. If you want people to have a good experience with you, you have to let them know that you care about them and their opinions. Ask them questions about their pets, their kids, their job, their hobbies, their jewelry, their whatever. Clearly, there are things you should NOT ask, but if I have to list those things, you have big problems. If you bring up controversial topics, be careful and tread lightly.

#5 Pay attention to body language.

How you sit, stand, walk, and gesture says a lot! Do you slouch in your chair? Are you bored? Do you have somewhere you'd rather be? Are you planning to sleep here? You might not realize how you sit because you sit that way all the time. You don't intend to communicate you don't care, but you are. 

Do you hunch your shoulders forward and cross your arms? Are you paranoid? Are you scared of aliens? Were you just in a freezer? Are you confident about yourself? Are you nervous? Do you hate being with these people? These are somewhat facetious, but you get the idea. People will spend time thinking about why your body is positioned like it is. Direct their thoughts in a positive way.

We all have different types of bodies, so giving advice in this area is tricky. It really depends on what you are trying to communicate. If you want people to like you, you should have a welcoming posture and friendly gestures. Most of this comes naturally, but if you're like Sheldon on Big Bang Theory, you might need to work at it.

Image credits:
Smiling woman image from
Eye contact cartoon from
Nerdy guy image from
Guys having coffee image from
Group of people image from

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