How to Make a Good First Impression at Work

Updated January 02, 2019 - Joseph Barnard

You’ve more than likely heard the expression "first impressions are everything" and for good reason - it’s thought that someone has already formed their first impression of you within seven seconds of meeting you. You may have only said a few words within that time, or maybe none at all, but you have already been judged on your non-verbal communication.

So, whether you’re meeting people at a networking event, business meeting at work, or professional conference, it’s important to know how to leave a good first impression on the new people you meet.

Here are our tips to help you come across as your best when you first meet someone at work.

The power of smiling

People often perceive positive people in a positive light so make sure you enter a conversation with good intentions and lead with a smile.

Have you ever felt nervous meeting someone and then after they smile you’ve felt more at ease? Smiling makes other people instantly feel more comfortable around you than if you stay straight faced when being introduced to someone. It also reduces your own stress levels so that you’ll feel better during the interaction too!

In fact, the power of a smile is so strong that some studies have shown that smiling even enables some people to overcome their racial and gender biases.

You don’t have to be smiling through your whole conversation, or be plastered with a huge grin across your face - you want to smile enough that you come across as open and friendly, without coming across as fake.

Appropriate greetings

First impressions are made from the moment someone sees you at work, so how you greet the person may be the only thing you say to them within the seven seconds that it takes for them to form an opinion about you. Greet people in a way that is appropriate for the situation you are in. In most professional settings, you can’t go wrong with a confident, firm handshake.

You want to find the right balance between cutting off the other person’s blood supply and a limp handshake. Ask friends you trust how your handshake feels to them and alter your grip accordingly.

Theresa May greeting with handshake

Theresa May greeting with a handshake during Brussels talks about Brexit.

If you’re attending an international event, it’s worth looking up what the polite way of introducing yourself is to someone, as handshakes aren’t always the social norm.

When you shake someone’s hand and they tell you their name, respond by saying ‘Hi X, good to meet you. I’m Y.’ By repeating the other person’s name, you’re showing that you’re really listening to them and breaking the barrier of ‘stranger meets stranger’ by saying their name back to them.

Active listening

A lot of people only passively listen to someone when they first meet them, most likely because they are nervous and focusing too much on planning what they are going to say next. Active listening tells the other person that you value them and their thoughts are heard and respected. You can show that you are active listening by asking the person a specific question about what they’ve just said.

A sure-fire way of making negative first impressions is by using your mobile phone while with the other person. 100% of your attention should be on the person/ people you are talking to and this is especially true when you first meet someone new.

Body language

Your eyes aren’t the only part of your body to be aware of. The way you stand, walk, and present yourself are just as important as what you actually say.

Try to identify and break any nervous habits you have that could give someone the impression that you are nervous, and thus make them feel comfortable. You want to come across as open and confident so stand tall, smile, and use hand gestures when you speak.

You could film yourself talking to a friend or even just walking around a room to see whether you have a nervous laugh, fiddle with your hair, avoid eye contact, stand with your arms cross, walk very slouched, and so on. By being aware of your habits you can work on breaking them to ensure you come across as friendly and confident.

Another technique many people use to build a good first impression is called mirroring. This is when you notice the other person’s non-verbal communication and copy what they are doing. This sends them a non-verbal message in return that you feel what they feel and that you’ll connect on a subconscious level.

Eye contact

A simple way to convey confidence and show you’re interested in what someone has to say is to maintain eye contact with them. In most Western countries, making eye contact is a sign of respect and will help you make a good first impression on most people that you meet. However, if you are attending an international event you should look up the local customs before you go.

Practice eye contact in a VR environment

Practice your eye contact in virtual reality with the VirtualSpeech app.

Be careful not to overdo eye contact otherwise it could be interpreted as staring and have the opposite effect of what you intended. If you’re speaking to one person, make eye contact for 9-10 seconds then briefly look away to break the intensity.

If you’re speaking to a group of people, try and make eye contact with one person for about 3 seconds, then someone else for 3 seconds, and so on, so that everyone feels included in the conversation. You can practice this in VR in our Public Speaking course.

What you say

After you’ve introduced yourself to someone new, start to take notice of their non-verbal cues about what you’re saying. See if they are interested in what you’re saying and adjust what you’re talking about based on their interest levels.

For example, if they seem distracted by something across the room then it might be time to talk about something else. You could even follow their gaze and pick up on what they are looking at and comment on that. Alternatively, ask them a question about themself. People love to talk about themselves so when in doubt, deflect the focus from you to them.

Be on time

This one speaks for itself. If you’re meeting someone for the first time in a professional environment, such as at the office, it’s polite and respectful to arrive on time. If you arrive late, you’re sending the message to the other person that you value your time more than theirs.

It’s best to plan to arrive early so that any travel issues don’t leave you running late. You’ll also feel flustered if you arrive late so do yourself a favour and factor in extra time to get there.

Speak clearly

Many people have interesting things to say at work but don't speak with any confidence. Unfortunately, that's a great way to wind up getting overlooked and not have your ideas heard. You want to be able to portray yourself in a positive light and give whomever you're meeting a reason to listen to you.

Don't overcorrect or speak too loudly. Studies have indicated that those who talk in a deeper voice, and more calming are taken more seriously.