Whether it’s meeting someone at a networking event or a party, or trying to impress a potential manager in a job interview, most of us want to leave a good first impression. Since writing Friend of a Friend, I’ve noticed how many people have this question at the forefront of their networking quandaries. In trying to answer that question, there are courses and books and seminars on how to perfectly answer the question so what do you do and courses on how to give the perfect elevator pitch. We’re all familiar—maybe too familiar—with the trite saying “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Whether or not it’s true is a subject for another time; in the meantime, let’s focus on how we can be sure we’ve left a great first impression.
What all these courses, books, and sayings have at their core is an emphasis on trying to be impressive by being interesting and likable to the other person. The truth is maybe the wrong goal.
If you want to make a great first impression the number one thing you should be is authentically interested in the other person.
This is a twist of sorts on a lesson first taught by Jim Collins, best-selling author of Built to Last, Good to Great, and many others. Early in his teaching career, his mentor pulled him aside to offered to him that, in trying to impress students and the faculty, perhaps his time was better invested focusing on them—being interested in them. Collins’ mentor knew that our natural inborn human psychological desires are often to be interested in ourselves, and so if you share that same interest, you become a fast friend.
The trick is you can’t fake it. You’ve got to be authentically interested.
Beyond being authentic, there are a few actions you can take to make sure your interest is noticed. See if you can control the question asking and keep asking about the other people. Ask them what they do and why they love it. Ask about hobbies and habits and what’s exciting them. Ask about family. Ask about their background or where they grew up. Ask about anything they want to talk about and follow up with “why” or “tell me more” when something they say strikes you as fascinating.
The key to coming off and making a great first impression—the key to leaving a conversation with people thinking, “Wow they are so interesting,”—is to be interested, authentically interested in the other person.
Try that next time you meet someone and you might find that you leave the first best impression that you have ever left.