As most successful business people will tell you, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. We put a lot of pressure on networking, and that can cause some stress when you’re not a practiced conversationalist. Putting your best foot forward is a critical step in getting ahead professionally — even for the average Joe.
Whether you’re a freelancer looking to impress a potential client or an employee trying to climb the corporate ladder, it’s important to portray yourself appropriately. In order to escape the potential flurry of “ums” and “uhs,” we’ve come up with a handful of tips to help you nail your first impressions.
1. First impressions start by knowing yourself
If you find yourself in a conversation with someone new, they’re likely going to ask you a number of questions. The best way to prepare yourself for first impressions is to know the answers to these questions ahead of time:
- What service do you provide?
- What skills do you have that make you unique in your field?
- Who do you serve?
- How do you impact your customers?
- Why would someone choose you over someone else?
If you’ve written a business plan, this becomes slightly easier because you have (or should have) already established these answers. However, if you’re an employee and play a role in a company’s success, it’s important not to be stumped when someone asks you about your employer. Take a look at your company’s mission statement and interpret it in a way that suits the professional persona you’re trying to convey.
2. Keep your audience in mind
Not everyone knows what HTML or Illustrator is. It’s great that you know your way around a Bézier curve, but that doesn’t hold much weight with most people outside the creative field.
If you’re talking to someone who doesn’t look like they know the ins and outs of graphic design, they probably don’t. When it comes to first impressions, the last thing you want to do is belittle your clients.
3. Show your passion through confidence
Your argument automatically becomes infinitely more convincing when your confidence shines through. If you’re uncertain about what you’re doing, why should anyone else trust in your abilities? This is where practice comes into play. Getting rid of all those uncertain conversation fillers (um, uh, like) ensures your delivery packs a punch.
Instead of …
- I think I’m pretty good at staying organized.
- Umm … Well, my company does tend to take on new projects.
- My best skill is organization.
- We’re always looking to take on new clients!
Show your love for what you do, and everyone else is bound to love it, too. First impressions can be tricky, but if you speak to your passions, you’re bound to shine!
4. Don’t beat around the bush
We often get caught up in making unnecessary transitions in our speech as a way of introducing what we’re talking about. It might feel blunt, but it pays to skip the fluff and get right to the bottom line.
Pro tip: You know your major achievements, so amp up the conversation with your accomplishments instead of falling back on uncertain language.
Most people have a short attention span, so by the time you’re done fumbling around with, “Hmm, I’m not really sure how to explain it …” you’ve completely lost them.
5. Keep it conversational
There’s such a thing as seeming too rehearsed. You don’t want to sound like you’re reciting from the index cards in your pocket — you’re looking to engage your listener. Building a relationship with whomever you’re speaking with can only happen if you relax a little and keep communication open. Don’t overwhelm them with a tense speech of accolades. Be open to questions, and show your excitement to be sharing what you’re passionate about.
There are a lot of ways to prep yourself for conversations such as these. You can even start your own networking group to share ideas, concerns and advice. Above all else, though, just be yourself! As long as you’re comfortable and confident, you’re guaranteed to make first impressions that will last.