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“Don’t leave inferences to be drawn when evidence can be presented.” ~~Richard Wright

If you are the father of a teenage daughter how long does it take you to size up her date?

Studies and personal experience puts this at about seven seconds.  We give someone seven seconds to assess their intent, ability, and integrity.  Obviously, the same time is afforded to us from the other side of the coin.  That is, we have seven seconds to make a good first impression.

For those readers who cannot relate to the example above, consider some business models we are all familiar with where companies pay attention to that first seven seconds (or don’t) and how we use this experience to anticipate our results.

  • Your waiter appears at the table for the first time this evening.
  • You arrive at the front desk in your distant hotel.
  • You walk up to the service desk to drop off your car for service.
  • You finally reach the front of the line at the DMV (or post office or grocery store.)
  • You present your health insurance card at the doctor’s office.

Your initial assessment may be right or wrong but we are quick to recognize corroborating evidence and slower to accept proof of our faulty judgment.  If the counter guy is greasy, fails to make eye contact, and appears bored we expect our auto repair will be painful.  The price quoted may be fair but we remain suspicious.  The wait may be shorter than expected so we wonder if they were thorough.  The repair technician and the company may be fantastic…yet we are harder to convince after that pathetic first impression.

How does this apply to master professional networkers like you and I?

I think the answer is obvious.  We only have seven seconds to make a good first impression.  That first impression sets the tone for the rest of our relationship and changing it is more difficult than supporting it.

With that in mind, let’s consider some high impact elements.

Your attitude is the single biggest toggle.  Do you think that had a bearing on the scenarios presented above?  Do you think it will have the same bearing on you?  Be aware of your attitude and adjust it in the parking lot before you go in.  Maybe traffic was terrible.  Leave that in the car.  Be prepared to smile, listen, and make some new friends.  Don’t knock the competition or monopolize the conversation.

Your appearance is the next area and this is more complicated and often we want to justify our appearance rather than adjust it.  This also engages each of our senses so be alert to all of them.

Dress appropriately…not for you but for the audience.  You may be a fitness instructor and work regularly in sweats.  While networking, though, you would have better success with clean khakis, a collared shirt, and dress shoes.

Here’s a controversial area, as well.  You may have a beautiful body and enjoy showing it off.  In some settings, this is entirely appropriate.  In business, though, it can be a distraction or even a perceived threat.

Consider the sense of smell, too.  I am glad I don’t smoke and am sympathetic with those that do not realize how the odor is repellant for many people.  Heavy perfume carries the same effect and we all perceive these scents differently.  When you first start wearing aftershave a small dab is all you need.  Over time, though, you become immune to it and add more and more.  Pretty soon the aroma announces your arrival before you enter the room.  Even at lower levels some may like the fragrance while others perceive it as closer to bug spray.

It would be wonderful if everyone had open minds.  On this planet, though, most do not.  Your talent is missed when others cannot get past your appearance.

Body language is another key element which is mostly subconscious.  A firm handshake, given while making eye contact, conveys confidence.  Listen carefully and leave your position open to new people mingling.  Stand tall rather than slouch or lean.  Resist the urge to cross your arms or have your hands full of food and drink.  I find the most successful strategy is to eat and drink at separate times, so you have one hand free.  Try chewing with your mouth closed.

In all of these areas, you are meeting new people.  Educating them to have open minds is more work than you should invest and misses the point.  Be a little friendlier, a little more conservative, and a little more cognizant of their first impression.  Let your hair down after the event is over.

This week’s action item goes back to the buddy system.  Bring a buddy to your next networking event and accept feedback in these key areas.  Awareness is the start of improvement.

Also, take a look at yourself before going out and answer the question, “What do I think about this person before me?  Would I want to meet them?  Would I want to listen to what they have to say?”  You will be able to answer that in seven seconds.

© 2011 by Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Stephen Hand of Triangle BNI.


Written by bniguy

June 12, 2011 at 2:06 am

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