• How to make a personal impact when meeting someone

‘Win them over in 90 seconds or less’

Meeting new people can be tough

Meeting someone new usually involves awkward silences, painful small talk and furtive eye contact. We’ve all been in this situation, hoping that the ground will open up and swallows us whole.

Faced with this situation it’s no wonder we often shy away from making new friends or colleagues, preferring to stick to our familiar social groupings and avoid engaging with people we don’t yet know.

However making new connections is hugely beneficial, not just because it broadens our social circle but because it teaches us to develop our inter-personal skills – the skills that we use to interact, engage and win over other people. These inter-personal skills are hugely important in all walks of life, particularly in business.

Being able to make a profound personal impact with someone is a vital skill to harness – and one that can be easily learnt.

The challenge: How to make a connection within the first 90 seconds of meeting someone

We want to make a personal connection immediately upon meeting a person for the first time. If we don’t create that initial spark with someone in that time, then it may prove impossible to spark it in future. So we want to make a great impression straight away.

1. People draw their first impression of us before we’ve even opened our mouths.

That’s why it all starts with our body language. We want our posture to create a warm connection with the other person.

We do this by being open rather than closed.

Opening up our body to the other person shows that we are keen to connect with them.

Tip: Think of this body language as quite literally opening up your heart to the other person – your shoulder are back and your chest is out towards them. This helps build mutual trust and confidence.

Closed body language, such as turning away or folding our arms across our chest, is much more likely to express negativity, resistance and impatience to the other person.

Body language is also about our facial expressions. Try to keep an open face, through smiling, strong eye contact and clear expressions. We want to create a warm, light and friendly atmosphere – our face has a big real role to play in this.

And remember to keep a consistency across all of our body language. If our eyes aren’t matching what our body is saying then people will pick up on it. These inconsistencies can be unnerving in the opening moments of meeting someone.

2. Sound friendly and positive

We want our verbal, visual and vocal cues to all line up. Our voice will be the thing people take onboard after our body language so remember to focus on our tone of voice – we want it be charming and friendly. If we’re saying something positive but our body language or tone of voice doesn’t reflect that then it creates awkwardness.

Try to come out with a strong opening line. This reduces pressure when meeting someone.

Speak clearly and don’t rush. If we have to repeat our name because they didn’t hear it then we’re disrupting that connection.

Once we’ve told them our name encourage them to tell them theirs. As soon as they give it to us, repeat the name out-loud so we can remember it. Try and use their name as often as possible in the opening meeting so it becomes embedded into our brain. We don’t want to end up in that dreaded situation where we’ve forgotten someone’s name but it’s gone too far to ask them what it was!

3. Adopt the right mental attitude

Psychology is just as important as body language when it comes to making an immediate personal connection with someone new.

This involves having the right mental attitude when meeting someone.

The best connections are made with someone with whom we have shared interests or goals. This allows us to build a natural rapport with each other. But often those shared interests don’t exist.

So we have to train our brains to put ourselves in that mental state.

Focus on what we want out of the interaction, rather than what we don’t want.

Human beings are social creatures. Meeting new people is an overwhelming positive experience for us – by talking and engaging with new people we learn from others and create new connections. So just by engaging with this new person we’re already enriching ourselves!

As well as focussing on clear goals, be curious about what we’re going to get out of this encounter. Curiosity can help drive our positive engagement when meeting someone new. Who knows – we just might get something beneficial that we didn’t initially expect!

Also think about what benefit the other person is getting from this interaction. Understand our own value and how that impacts on the other person.

This outlook will put us in a more positive head space. Having this attitude will help influence our body language and facial expressions, making us even more likeable and engaging. Having a negative outlook on how badly this interaction might go will result in negative body language and subliminally puts barriers up in front of the other person.

So to develop a positive mental attitude focus on the positive outcome you desire from the conversation.

4. Engage with the other person

So far we’ve used physical, mental and verbal tools to make an immediate positive introduction to our new friend. Now we want to create an engaging conversation. By getting them to talk we can learn more about them and engage with them better.

The best way to do this is by asking questions. Questions invite responses from other people.

Asking questions often spurs unexpected tangents that can drive a conversation in new, exciting directions. Asking questions teaches you how to advocate for the course of action you believe in; asking enough questions, even of yourself, reveals the strengths and weaknesses of your position.

We never want to order anyone to do anything. To generate a genuine collaborative dynamic, we need to give people a chance to answer our questions rather than respond to our commands. This create a positive and trusting atmosphere.

But we want to ask the right questions. We want to ask questions that open people up rather than close them down.

Open questions usually begin with:

  • Who – e.g. Who works in your team?
  • What – e.g. What are you doing at the weekend?
  • Where – e.g. Where were you living before you moved here?
  • When – e.g. When do you expect to have the project completed?
  • How – e.g. How are you finding things in your new role?
  • Why – e.g. Why do you think things have been so busy here?

These questions invite the other person to open themselves and reveal something more. Open questions can also help find common ground to develop that genuine rapport. Close questions on the other hand usually involve a Yes or No answer. So try to use open questions when starting a conversation.

5. Listen to the other person

Listening is so important. We’re not just listening to the words the other person says, but what they’re actually saying. We’re trying to understand the emotions and feelings that the person is revealing. By understanding this we can better emphasise with them and find a deeper connection.

We do this by linking what we say to what we’ve just heard.

This is known as ‘Yes and-ing’ – taking onboard what someone has just said and adding to it in some way, rather than ignoring it or changing the subject (otherwise known as ‘Blocking’). By ‘Yes and-ing’ this creates more of an offer to other person and deepens the conversation.

So let the other person speak.

Listen to them with more than just use your ears – instead engage your whole body. Turn to face them and make clear eye contact. Show positive gestures, nodding and smiling, with the parts you agree with. If you find yourself nodding intermittently without actually agreeing with them not you’re fully listening to them and it will come across as fake.

You can respond to what they’re saying but be careful not to interrupt or talk over them. We want to let them pause after speaking, in case they go on to say something else.

Also allow yourself a pause before responding. This will give you a second to think about what you’re going to say before you open your mouth. We want to respond in the best manner possible.

Be enthusiastic and positive to what they’ve said, and remember to mirror their thoughts and feelings. If they’re negative about a situation we don’t want to overwhelmingly positive, and vis versa.

6. Leave the encounter well

Those last few moments are going to be the ones that our new acquaintance remember the most. Leaving in a bad manner can undo all the hard work we’ve put in to making a strong connection with our new person.

So we need to leave the encounter with the same attitude of positivity and friendliness with which we began – using warm body language and a friendly expression. Mentally we want to put ourselves in the head-space of thinking this was exactly the engagement we needed – we got exactly what we wanted!

Making a impact when meeting someone for the first time isn’t the only skill that improvisers can apply to the business world. Check out five improv techniques for business.

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