The First 15 Seconds

All of us have heard the adage, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.”  Seems straightforward enough.  In fact, it almost goes without saying.  The words may begin to sound more like a cliché that might have been uttered by Polonius and less like good advice as we move from our teens into adulthood.

But, and here’s the rub, it’s true.

I once heard a gentleman say “Every impression after the first is a gradual adjustment to that first impression, but it never really makes the first impression go away.”  I’ve never forgotten that.  And with that in mind, I’ve tried to encourage employees, students, and even my own children to adopt some habits in meeting new people that can set the stage for a good first impression.

It’s all about the first 15 seconds, because, believe it or not, after 15 seconds, the person you are meeting has decided where to rank you among several categories.  What the specifics of those categories are is unique to the individual, but your ranking in the category, the degree to which you will be valued, can be directly impacted by how you handle the first 15 seconds.

Here are the things that I have tried to integrate into my process of meeting new people.

Smile  Few things create as much potential for a positive beginning than a genuine smile.  It need not be a toothy grin, but it must be genuine and gentle.

Eye contact Not the kind of death stare that is a challenge, but enough to notice the color of the eyes of the person you are talking to.  No need to remember it necessarily, just notice it.

Physical contact In most settings a handshake is sufficient, and if the handshake can be connected with the eye contact all the better.

Repeat the person’s name Dale Carnegie wrote, “A person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest sound in all the world.”  Say it, clearly and correctly, in a way of ensuring that you heard it correctly when it was given to you.

Show of respect A simple phrase like, “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” may be too much for a casual situation and too little for a formal reception, but the idea is to let the person have a moment where he or she is more important than you.  In some situations, a slight nod of the head or a half bow may even be appropriate.

There you have it.  Simple as it is, these short tips can help set the stage for today’s gentlemen to make a more positive first impression.


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