The first impression someone has of you can make or break the rest of the relationship.

In fact, studies have shown that people begin to judge others 1/10 of a second after meeting them. This reaction is usually not a conscious choice. It's a trait left over in our DNA from our prehistoric days when judging someone new was a life-or-death decision.

Not only are first impressions important in your personal life, they're even more important in your career. Many deals I've closed have come down to the sheer fact that people felt more comfortable with my team and me than they did with my competition.

Because first impressions play an important role in a new business relationship, I've studied top entrepreneurs and researched how people make judgments on first interactions. Below is a list of five things to do when meeting a potential client for the first time.

1. Energize yourself with this simple trick.

What if I told you that you could feel like Superman just by posing in his iconic way? You'd probably think I was crazy. That's what I thought when my business partner showed me a study about how "power postures" (chest lifted and head held high) can have a direct correlation with your body chemistry by lowering cortisol levels, raising your testosterone, and giving you a feeling of confidence.

This makes sense because when we feel powerful, our emotions tend to manifest physically through the way we sit, walk, and talk. And although your mind can change your body, the opposite is also true. Your body can have just as much of an effect on your mind.

So before pitching a big client, try using your own version of a "power pose."

2. Keep a "just in case" bag.

Years ago, I had just left a meeting and was returning to the office when an executive from a business my company was pitching called me. He wanted to get together immediately. While many people would have been caught off guard, I reached into the back seat of my car and pulled out my "just in case" bag. This collection of items has figuratively saved my life on more than one occasion.

What's in it?

  • Deodorant
  • Cologne
  • Razor and shaving cream
  • Breath mints
  • Comb
  • Hair products
  • Clean, pressed shirt
  • Nail clipper

It may seem like an odd assortment, but it's everything I need to transform from shlub to stylish.

If you think people don't judge you based on your appearance, guess again. A 2011 study showed that kempt, attractive people (both men and women) earn an average of 3 to 4 percent more than people with below-average looks. Yes, it's unfair. However, since much of what makes you attractive can be manipulated, you can turn the odds in your favor by spending more time and energy improving your appearance.

Think about what products you might need to get a pitch ready in a jiff, and create your own "just in case" bag.

3. Memorize this personal-introduction template.

Don't confuse this with your networking intro or elevator pitch. This intro should be as warm and positive as possible, focusing on you rather than your business. It also shouldn't be more than a few sentences.

The template to use for this intro is simple (each talking point doesn't have to be used):

  1. Say who you are.
  2. Make an observation that bonds the two of you.
  3. Compliment the other person or say something positive (e.g., "Pretty great weather we're having today").
  4. End with a question about him or her to control the direction of the conversation.

Here's an example:

"Hey John, my name's Dan. I'm so glad that Alex put us in touch with each other. We've been great friends since she started working at Digitalux. How did you two meet?”

The purpose of memorizing this template is to allow you to control the first minute of how the other person sees you. It'll also make you less nervous about the interaction since you'll have no need to worry about stumbling over your words or saying the wrong thing.

4. Focus on your body language.

As you can tell from the "power pose" example I mentioned, body language is key not only to your self-image but also to how others perceive you.

In a study by Friedrich Platz and Reinhard Kopiez of the Hanover University of Music, they researched people's initial reactions to entrances made by classical violinists. Surprisingly, their first impressions were not formed by clothing or attractiveness. Instead, they were heavily influenced by body language. If the violinist nodded at the audience, strode confidently to his or her seat, and sat with a wider stance, the violinist was perceived superior by the audience.

To use body language in your favor like a master violinist does, remember these simple tips:

  • Keep your back straight, even when sitting. A hunch can make you look timid and unconfident.
  • Use your hands when you talk. The process of talking while using hand gestures has been proved to free up working memory, allowing you to think clearer before you speak.
  • Align your body with whomever you are speaking with. Doing so will show that he or she has your full attention.
  • Use a firm grip when shaking hands. Research suggests that a stronger grip can lead to closing more deals.

5. Meet at his or her favorite restaurant.

The benefits of having your first meeting at a restaurant are two-fold. First, you and your potential client will be in a relaxed state, as the meeting will be held in a place where you're both comfortable. That will lower stress and promote a lighter atmosphere. Second, consuming food and drinks while negotiating leads to better deals.

In a study conducted by Lakshmi Balachandra of the Harvard Business Review, she found that "individuals who negotiated in restaurants created 12% greater profits and those who negotiated over food in a conference room created 11% greater profits [than those who didn't]." Why does this happen? Research suggests that body language could again be the answer.

Mimicking another person's movements, especially in an environment where both parties are eating, helps establish rapport and creates a pro-social environment. Why? Because displaying actions similar to the person you are meeting with can unconsciously lead that person to believe that you two are similar, which in turn will build their trust.

What ways do you make an amazing first impression? Let me know in the comments section below!

Published on: Jul 23, 2015