First impressions can be quite important.
Everyone stereotypes everyone on first impression, even if we are reluctant to do it.
We all get a first impression of a new person that creates a mental image of his or her personality in our minds.
That image of you often lasts and can affect the relationship that follows.
Another thing is that we often play different roles in relationships. With our parents we play one role, with friends another, with someone we are interested in/in love with a third, when shopping for clothes in a store a fourth. And so on.
A good or great first impression can create a positive role in the minds of the new people we meet. When we meet them again, we are often drawn back into this role. Sometimes it happens almost unconsciously until you after a few minutes notice that you have fallen into your old role – like when you meet friends you haven't seen in years – in that dynamic once again. You may not always be drawn into that role. But if you do it sure is better to have a positive than a negative role saved for you.
Here are some of the things I've learned about improving first impressions. Of course, different environments like business meetings with suits and ties or parties with umbrella-drinks come with different goals and expectations so figure out what's appropriate and useful in each meeting.
Act as if you are meeting a good friend
If you just imagine that the person you have just met and are talking to is one of your best friends you'll probably adjust unconsciously and start to smile, open up your body-language to a very friendly and warm position and reduce any nervousness or weirdness in your tone of voice and body-language. Don't overdo it though, you might not want to hug and kiss right away.
The nice thing about this is that you may also start to feel positive feelings towards this new person, just as you do with your friend when you meet him/her. This is a pretty good starting-point for getting them to reciprocate and for developing a good relationship.
Keep you body language open
Smile. Don't cross your arms or legs. Turn your body towards the people you're are shaking hands with or talking to so that your body language is friendly and open. Make relaxed eye contact – don't stare – when talking or listening. Don't look the person in the eye all the time. When you break eye-contact try to do it kinda slow, don't let your eyes just dart away. Making eye-contact can be a bit hard or scary but if you work at it you'll get used to it.
For more tips, you may want to have a look at 18 Ways to Improve Your Body Language.
Stand up straight
Keeping a good posture certainly improves on the impression one makes. Don't slouch. Sit or stand up straight.
Sometimes you can go in all positive in a first meeting. Sometimes it may not be the best approach to go in too positive as it can be seen as bit abrasive or inappropriate. A better way to convey a positive attitude in a first meeting can then be to read the mood of person(s) before you start talking – by just watching them – and then match it for a short while. Then – when you have an emotional connection and the other person feels you are similar to him/her – you can let your positivity arise a bit more.
Regardless if you start out positive from the get-go or a short, short while into the meeting, be sure to positive. If you, for instance, start a first meeting by complaining, there's a big chance the people you meet will mentally label you as a complainer or a negative person.
Don't think too much
Try, as much as possible, to stay outside of your head and focus on the people you are talking to rather than focusing on yourself.
Mentally rehearse before you even enter the room
Visualize how great the events will unfold – see and hear it – and also how great will you feel at this meeting.
See yourself smiling, being positive, open and having a great time. See the excellent outcome in your mind. Then release by visualizing that it has already happened, that the meeting is over with the desired result. This is surprisingly effective and will get you into a great and relaxed mood before even stepping into the first, second or twentieth meeting.
You may also want to check out the ever-popular Do you make these 10 mistakes in conversation? for more information on stuff like listening, hogging the spot-light, what to talk about (and not to talk about) and the very common need to be right.
What you say isn't that important
I'd say that mental rehearsal followed by acting as if you're meeting a friend are the most important parts of all of this. They often solve the rest of pointers in this article unconsciously and automatically and keeps your thoughts focused outwards instead of inwards.
The problem with an inward-focused meeting – where you focus on what you just said, how you look and what the other person thinks of you right now – can reduce anyone to a bumbling, second-guessing, fidgeting shadow of their former self as the self-consciousness becomes almost paralyzing.
Also, as long as you try to use the first and the last point it doesn't really matter too much what word or phrase you use to start the conversation. The words are only 7 percent of your communication. 93 percent is in your tone of voice and your body-language.
So, a simple “Hi!” may do just fine.