That firm handshake is great, but it's what you say next—and how you say it—that matters more.
You already know the basics of leaving a polished first impression, like dressing well, making eye contact, and having a firm handshake. That's great advice, but it's probably not enough. If you really want to be memorable (for the right reasons), you need to think about what you say and how you say it. Here are a few straightforward pointers that many people miss.
In The Godfather, Michael Corleone tells his brother, "It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business." Well, a good first impression should be both personal and "business." If you connect only at a personal level, you risk seeming unprofessional or irrelevant to whatever business context you may find yourself in. But if you connect only at a business level, you’ll be relevant, but you won’t be nearly as memorable.
A good first impression should be both personal and "business."
Fortunately, you don't have to make a trade-off. I just had a phone conversation with a potential client from Berlin who worked in the construction industry. Instead of just saying, "Oh, I’ve worked with many clients in the construction industry," I tried to connect with him on a more personal level. We ended up discussing construction generally, then landed on the subject of building walls, touching on everything from the Great Wall of China to the Berlin Wall.
These were unplanned digressions—but that's the point. I'm confident he will remember our conversation not just because I connected on a business level, but because I connected on a personal level. And best of all, you can do this without knowing much about the person you're speaking with beforehand. My client had grown up in Berlin and worked in construction, so it wasn't totally unusual that we'd discuss the Berlin Wall—something very well known that might have some personal (not just business) relevance for him. Sure enough, it did.
Public speakers and writers are often counseled to use compelling facts and figures to grab audiences' attention, but the same technique can work in one-on-one conversations, too. If you're able to impress someone with a data point they’ve never heard before, they're likely to remember you—no matter what the context.
And the more relevant the statistic is to their business concerns, the better. For example, a client who works in staffing recently told me that his firm was able to consistently predict whether or not employees would be successful after 13 weeks of work. Not 12 weeks, not 14 weeks, but 13 weeks—the specificity of that time frame stuck with me. The statistic wasn't only interesting, as he gave me an insight that may be important to me as I keep growing my own business.
It doesn't have to be a business-related stat, though. Offer the person you're speaking with an interesting fact that they can use in their personal life. You can also make an impression with basically any kind of a thought-provoking insight that they’ll want to tell people outside of work. To point is just to be interesting.
For example: Did you know that people born blind gesture in ways that are similar to sighted people? When I first heard that, I was fascinated. You won't want to drop a "did you know?" as a complete non sequitur, but as long as you're keeping the conversation a mix of business and personal, there should be a natural opportunity to weave in an interesting idea or two that might not have any direct connections to your work. If you succeed at that, they'll be more likely to remember you.
Finally, if you want to make a memorable first impression, keep your speaking pithy. Pack as much punch into as few words as possible. If you’re too long-winded, you might be memorable, but not in a good way—people will just want to escape your clutches.
I was recently at a party when a man came up to me and said, "I like your bauble." I was wearing a five-carat blue topaz necklace, one of my most prized pieces of jewelry, from Hong Kong. It was such an unusual way to compliment my necklace, but I could tell he meant it sincerely. Still, the ambiguity and slight edge of his remark has stuck with me, and I remember our interaction clearly.
Making a good first impression is about more than a look or a handshake. It’s about establishing a strong connection in just a few short minutes of conversation. That leaves you with only a short time frame to surprise, delight, and intrigue the person you're speaking with, but with these four strategies, you can do that pretty quickly and with just a little preparation.