There’s an old saying that goes “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression”. Supposedly, you have less than 17 seconds from when you first meet a stranger to when they start forming an opinion about you. While some people may disagree with that saying, believing that it’s not the first impression that matters, but the impression that you leave at the end of the interaction, there’s still a lot to be said for getting things right from the start.
Dress to Impress
What’s the first thing someone sees after they glance at the name badges everyone’s wearing at conferences? In most cases, it’s the way the person they’re talking to is dressed. If you turn up to a serious business related conference dressed in shorts and flip-flops, you probably aren’t going to make a good first impression.
Looking smart shouldn’t be a chore, it should be a habit. Think back to the last conference you attended. On the second or third day, what did you think of the people crawling around with hang-overs from the after-conference party the night before? I bet “unprofessional” was one of the terms that came to mind. Don’t let people get that impression of you.
Over the course of a long event, it’s normal to get a little tired, even dishevelled if you’ve been running from meeting to meeting. There’s a difference, however, between looking like you’ve been working hard, and looking like you don’t care. Try to at least wear smart trousers and a nice shirt.
When you’re talking to someone, especially for the first time, pay attention to what they’re saying. Don’t be one of those people that’s always peering at name badges and stammering “Oh, hi, er… Peter? Didn’t we meet at, um, that conference last year?”. Make an effort to remember the names of people you talk to, and use their names a few times in that first conversation. At the end of the trade show or conference, write down a few things about each person you met. This will help to solidify each person in your mind, so you remember their names and interests when you meet them again.
People love to talk about themselves. If you make an effort to ask questions about each person you meet, and really do listen to their answers, they’ll come away having enjoyed talking to you. Asking people questions about their projects is a good way to bond with them, making them more likely to want to try to help you with your own projects.
Once you’ve made a good first impression, you need to keep people thinking about you. Send follow-up messages after the conference, thanking the people that you met for their time. The messages don’t have to be long, a simple “It was good to meet you” will do. If you use LinkedIn, Twitter, or any other social services, consider adding your new contacts on those services too.