Do first impressions matter?

I am a networker. That means that I meet lots of people every month so I quickly form impressions about them and those impressions dictate my behavior and interactions with them from then on. Conversely, the initial impressions that I leave will also guide them towards or away from future interactions and business opportunities together.

 For example, I attended a CEO roundtable breakfast meeting this week. I met a first-time CEO of a 5-week old start-up. Our conversation before the breakfast speaker was brief but favourable. During the roundtable portion of the event, as he presented an overview of his business, he was confident, concise and well spoken. When questioned about specifics, he was direct and honest in his answers and willing to admit what he did not know. There was no bullshit. At the end of the meeting, I offered to introduce him to an advisor that is well connected into his target market space. The offer was enthusiastically accepted. After I did the email introduction, he promptly followed up on it. This is a guy that I will go out of my way to help.

 On the other end of the scale, last week, a colleague electronically introduced me to someone he met. This new person wanted to meet me because something he does connects to something that I do. We traded emails and arranged to meet for coffee. The evening before the meeting, I received the email below

 "Peter, I just returned from a weekend in NYC and I'm beat. Think I'm going to take it easy tomorrow. Can we meet on Wednesday instead?"

 My reaction was pretty gut-level. WTF. I wondered if I was just being old-fashioned in my reaction so I contacted the person who introduced us. After he apologized for what had happened (which is classy because it wasn't his fault and he had no reason to apologize), he suggested I don't bother answering this person's email and commented that this was the last time he will ever introduce this guy to anyone in his network. I also bounced this story off of a few other senior people throughout the course of this week.  I got the same reaction. Often their facial expressions said "you have got to be kidding" as I shared the story. So my first impression of this guy will simply be my last impression.

 How do you make a great first impression? Here are some tips that I think help.

  1. In the words of David Maister, "people want to know how much you care before they care how much you know". Let them talk. Don't dominate the conversation.
  2. Don't pretend that your shit doesn't stink. Attractiveness is often inversely proportional to the size of ego displayed. Be humble.
  3. Show your knowledge by asking great questions. Don't lecture to show your brilliance. Ask insightful questions instead.
  4. Do what you say you are going to do. If you make a commitment, execute on it quickly and visibly.
  5. Understand the other person's value system and play to their agenda, not yours. For example, if you are Gen Y and they are a baby boomer executive, don't Facebook them and wonder why they never got the message. By the way, they may not know what LOL means and wonder why you are wishing them "lots of love" (true story).

© 2011 Meaford Group

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