TIME psychology

6 Strategies for Making a Brilliant First Impression in 9 Seconds or Less

You can always ask someone where they’re from, but questions about geography rarely get you very far

As the story goes, my mom and dad, who recently celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary, met at a dance in college. My father introduced himself, saying, “I’m Howard Hogshead from Hudson.”

My mom burst into laughter: “Nobody has the last name Hogshead!!”

Hey, some of us have it lucky when it comes to first impressions.

Even if you don’t have the last name “Hogshead,” you can still make a fascinating first impression and build relationships quickly.

Let’s say you’ve just walked into a big network event. The room buzzes with prospective clients and high-level leaders. You want to introduce yourself… but how?

  1. Find one way to add value to the conversation.

From the moment you meet someone, be asking yourself: “How can I add value to this person?”

What problem is your listener facing and how can you help them overcome it?

You want your listener to come away from the conversation feeling good about their investment of time and energy. What can you contribute to the discussion?

For example, has your team recently learned a new way to connect via conference call, or attract new customers?

If you’re not adding value, you’re just taking up space.

  1. Understand how the world sees you.

Your personality already has certain patterns of communication that shape how people perceive you. Fascinating conversationalists don’t have to be sparkling and witty and charismatic. They have to understand how to build an authentic connection with their listener. You already have this ability. There’s a natural style of communication that defines how people perceive you, and when you apply that in conversation, it’s incredibly effective. My research shows that people are more likely to listen to you, remember you, buy from you and even fall in love with you when you apply your own natural style.

  1. Know your “Anthem.”

Your “Anthem” identifies the perfect words to describe who you are, at your best.

Your Anthem is the tagline for your personality.

Once you know what makes you valuable to others, you’re more authentic and confident and more likely to make a positive impression.

  1. Ask real questions.

When it comes to first impressions, your questions matter more than your answers. The goal is to get away from trite topics, and get on a roll with the other person in which you’re both effortlessly engaged in a subject.

You don’t have to be witty or spontaneous to ask great questions. You do have to listen and be ready to ask real questions.

Let’s say you’re going to a business conference. A few examples of real questions:

  • “What has been the most successful boost to your business in the last year?”
  • “What’s the main thing you want to get out of this conference?”
  • “What’s stressing out your team these days? Have you found any solutions?”

Sure, you can ask where they’re from, but questions about geography rarely get you very far. The less trite, the better.

  1. Consider what people will already be thinking and talking about.

It’s much easier to immediately connect with someone if you already know what they’re already pondering, struggling with or excited about.

Let’s come back to that example of a business conference. What will people be buzzing about at your next conference? Is there an industry-wide issue that your peers face? Is everyone jittery about a concerning trend?

Before you go to your next conference, spend a moment to consider what will already be on everyone’s mind. How can you become part of their current mindset?

  1. Commit to a strong start.

Sometimes, it feels effortful to start a conversation. That’s why people just keep scanning the room and don’t make eye contact.

When introducing yourself, don’t give a half-hearted greeting and wait for the other person to do all the work.

Remember: Every time you introduce yourself, you’re either adding value or taking up space. If you’re not going to commit to a strong start, it’s better to not introduce yourself in the first place. A weak start leads to a weak first impression.

The first moments of an interaction offer your window of opportunity for connection. If you earn your listener’s interest during those 9 seconds, people will be more likely to engage further. If you fail to add some sort of value in that golden window, they’re less likely to listen to what you say, let alone remember you.

Those first defining moments of an interaction deserve a little focus and energy, don’t you think? Bring a sense of purpose to the conversation.

Ultimately, remember: The purpose of a conversation is not to kill time, but to grow a connection.

Take out your conversational watering can and grow more connections.

Sally Hogshead is a Hall of Fame speaker and author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller How the World Sees You.

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