You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Either consciously or unconsciously, we make judgments about the professionalism, character and competence of others based on first impressions.
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Just as you evaluate potential business partners, employees and personal acquaintances on your first-time encounter with them, others will judge you and your business by how you conduct yourself.
The best way to make a positive first impression, especially in business, is to embrace uncommon common sense. Many entrepreneurs overlook the importance of poise and professionalism. A few common courtesies will help you make a positive impression when you meet someone for the first time.
Use these six tips to guarantee you’ll make a great first, and lasting, impression — no matter the circumstance.
1. Prepare ahead of time. Preparation reduces anxiety and will help you show more authority. If you do your homework, you’ll have an enormous advantage over your competition. Before an important meeting, learn everything you can about your potential client and his or her unique approach to business. Familiarize yourself with the industry in which you’ll be working and brush up on current events. Visit the company website to learn more about the company’s history, staff and recent news releases. When you take the time to prepare, you’ll appear interesting and knowledgeable — two qualities that help make a good impression.
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2. Find out who will attend the meeting. To go above and beyond, reach out to the meeting organizer to learn which stakeholders will be in attendance. Memorize each person’s name so you’ll be able to address everyone directly throughout the meeting. Log onto LinkedIn and learn more about each person and their background, as well as hobbies and interests. If you find you have something in common, use it as a way to break the ice with a little small talk before you move on to business.
3. Arrive a few minutes early. It’s important to be punctual, but when you arrive on time you send the clear message that you’re responsible, capable and respectful of others’ time. Those few extra minutes will give you the opportunity to go to the restroom, check your appearance and gain your composure before you walk into an important meeting. Always schedule extra time on your calendar to account for travel, traffic delays, inclement weather and finding a parking spot.
4. Suit up for success. A professional appearance will enhance your personal brand. The more “put together” you appear, the more likely you will leave a positive impression. You don’t have to purchase expensive designer suits to look your best. Instead, invest in timeless classic pieces to create the foundation of your wardrobe. Always dress for your client’s comfort, not yours. If you’re meeting with a group of bankers, a dark suit is most appropriate. Some occasions, however, call for a more creative approach. It’s okay to show more of your personal style if you work in an artistic career or when you meet with a group of designers. Be sure your wardrobe consists of clothes that fit and flatter your body shape.
5. Give a firm handshake. In most cultures, a solid handshake carries a lot of weight. Your handshake should be warm, friendly and sincere. If it is too firm or too weak, you may convey a negative impression. If you’re seated when you’re introduced to someone, stand before you shake his or her hand — it shows respect for yourself and the person you’re meeting. Remember to keep it short and sweet; many people will become uneasy if a handshake lasts for more than a few seconds. Finally, be sure to smile and make eye contact as you shake hands.
6. Listen effectively. Attentive listening builds trust. Throughout your meeting, ask pertinent questions. When someone else speaks, make eye contact and show you’re fully engaged in what he is saying. Always allow others time to fully express themselves. If you interrupt or attempt to finish someone’s sentence, he may assume you’re in a hurry or feel you don’t respect his opinion. Effective listening skills will help you establish rapport with new clients and business partners.
This originally appeared at Entrepreneur. Copyright 2014.