First impressions can profoundly affect potential relationships, either encouraging them or putting us off for life. So how do you come across to others when you first meet?

This self-awareness is difficult to achieve since you can hardly ask that new friend, colleague or client ‘How did I come across to you just now when we were introduced?’ Well, you could, but not without being labelled slightly strange and neurotic.

Can we remember dynamic or captivating first impressions?

In her book, Complete Mind Makeover, Ros Taylor writes:

I was musing on some for the purpose of this book, when I recalled meeting Aaron Beck, the father of cognitive psychology. Before his arrival on the academic scene, psychologists were focused on studying only behaviour that could be seen or measured; ‘thinking’ did not count. He changed all that at a stroke, by declaring that in fact thoughts were behaviours worthy of study and measurement. And he revealed in the 1970s how depression and anxiety could be improved by the careful examination and changing of the thought patterns he called ‘automatic thoughts’. I mention all this to give credibility to his guru-like status among psychologists.

I suppose I expected someone arrogant and opinionated, but this man was charming and interested in others. He asked about the private practice I had at the time, sharing anecdotes of difficult cases. He must have been over 70, fit and lively, but of even more importance, intellectually sharp. New ideas still enthralled him. All this was impactful enough, but when I met him again a few years later in another city he recalled our first meeting in Glasgow. Heady stuff from a famous man.

Quite the reverse was true of an encounter with Martin Amis in a television studio where I worked as a presenter. I had just finished reading his latest novel and wanted to check that the main protagonists were in fact dead from the beginning. He fixed me a look of such disdain a worm would have fared better, saying ‘Of course they were dead’. I wanted to say in my defence that it really was quite unusual to have dead people doing lively and non-ghostly things throughout a book and that at least I had read it, which was more than could be said for the guy who interviewed him. But I remained mute and more than slightly humiliated.

Two encounters: one enhancing, the other detracting.

If I produced a rating scale with ‘enhancing’ at one end with 10 points, and ‘detracting’ at the other with 0, where would you come on that scale right now? And where would you like to be? If you are a Martin Amis who works alone as a writer, then you can perhaps afford a 0 rating, though I’m sure it must damage the relationships he does have. For the rest of us who collaborate with or manage others we have to aspire to a rating of 10.

Create a 30-Second Commercial About Yourself

Discover the impact you make by constructing a 30-second commercial about you. On a separate piece of paper, write a brief advert describing what talents and skills you bring to your organization, department or life in general. Take no more than five minutes to prepare it and then take exactly 30 seconds to read it through.

Once you’re done, ask yourself the following questions:

  • When talking through your commercial was the language you used positive, talking about strengths, or did some weaknesses sneak in?
  • Did you use qualifying words like ‘fairly’ good at…, ‘quite’ organized…, or I ‘think’ people would say I was…?
  • Thirty seconds is not a long time, but did you utilize it well? Or had you just started when the thirty seconds were up?
  • Did you use buzzwords when you were making notes, or long sentences that took up too much time?

Takeaway Tips for Selling Yourself

This exercise is not something you would choose to do in real life. Boasting about your strengths is seen as, well, boasting! However, if someone asks you at a party what you do, what is your reply? Do you sell yourself? Is your answer crisp, pithy and to the point, or do you ramble on in a slightly apologetic fashion?

Just declaring what you are good at does not have to be over the top. You are not saying you are the world’s best or the greatest thing since sliced bread. Just good. Two major points to remember:

  • It takes 30 seconds or less to make a good first impression and about 5 to make a bad one.
  • The lion’s share of promotions are achieved through doing a job well, and also through being seen to do a job well.

Find a positive way to sell what you do in short, crisp sentences. Practise it at every opportunity when you meet a new person.

Ros Taylor Company is a corporate leadership and coaching consultancy that will change the way you do business. These tools are just a few of the many techniques our coaches help you perfect in order to drive your performance as a professional. Find more about our coaches and mentors.