5 Steps to a Positive First Impression

For senior public relations students across the country, interviewing a senior level practitioner is standard. I have been interviewed by many students, but only Joshua stands out in my mind.

Will Rogers is credited with saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Research indicates that we make that first impression in as little as 30 seconds, often without much more than a greeting being spoken. What is deduced during that first impression? Everything from social and economic status, intelligence and level of professionalism.

The first impression is literally branded in the part of our brains associated with survival instinct, then referenced (consciously or subconsciously) whenever we again encounter the person to whom it belongs. Without a positive first impression, people are less likely to be open to what we say. In marketing and development work, this can mean the difference between success and failure.

Now back to Joshua. His initial request came from an email. He invited me to meet in person at the location of my choice. We exchanged cell phone numbers in case there was an issue the day of the meeting and he texted me when he arrived, describing himself and telling me where he was seated. From my perspective, Joshua took the five critical steps to achieving a positive first impression. These steps apply to anyone planning for a formal meeting, from an interview to a media pitch to a development meeting.

1. Prepare. Joshua asked questions that revealed he knew quite a bit about me. Take time to read up on a person or organization you are meeting with so you can ask intelligent questions and use their time wisely. Have your questions written out ahead of time.

2. Arrive early. Joshua not only arrived before I did, he had two flavors of iced tea waiting so I could choose and we could begin our conversation promptly. Arriving five to 10 minutes early shows that you value the other person’s time. Planning to arrive early also ensures you do not arrive late, a misstep that is difficult to overcome.

3. Look professional. Joshua, a college student studying for finals, showed up in dress pants, a pressed shirt and a tie. His outward appearance conveyed respect for me and for his assignment.

4. Practice good body language. Joshua stood when I entered our meeting location. He shook my hand firmly. He made eye contact during our conversation, and stayed focused despite the fact that we were meeting at the very busy local Panera.

5. Communicate to connect. Marketing and development are about building relationships. People resonate and remember stories, not facts. Joshua told me how he came to choose public relations as his major and asked me to tell him how I chose the profession. We connected through the fact that we both initially planned to pursue other fields.

Note that of the five steps, only one involves speaking. As the last step, the actual communication can cement a good first impression and even save a potentially negative one should you stumble on one of the other steps. Gracefully maneuver all five, and your meeting is off to a great start.

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