The First Five Minutes – Make Your Initial Impression Count!

First Five Minutes 600px-01Part 1 – The Protection of Preparedness

First off, don’t think the irony that it will take longer than five minutes to read this post has escaped us.

This wasn’t supposed to be a multi-part post (similar to the Hobbit movies), but once we got started, we realized it was going to take longer than our self-imposed 1000-word posting limit.

Today we’d like to talk about the Scout’s motto, ‘be prepared’.

They call the moments when you first meet someone by many things: first impressions, at first blush, Blinking, le premier pas, gut/initial reactions and perhaps even, love at first sight. It’s all the same thing. People make snap judgements (there’s another one!) within moments of meeting someone for the first time.

Strangely enough, those judgements are almost always right; and even when they aren’t, it’s almost impossible to recover from a bad one. You can do it, but it’s definitely swimming upstream.

So, our question to you is, why start off badly? Sometimes positive encounters just don’t happen, and two people can’t connect no matter how hard both parties are trying (think oil and water). However, you might be surprised at how many people we encounter on a daily basis that don’t put enough importance on how strongly their first impressions impact others.

One of the things we do at our firm, is connect people. We’re really good at it. It provides us the opportunity to watch connections happen, constantly. Some go well, some don’t. Here’s a few things we’ve seen in just the last few weeks (really!) that ended up in First Five Minute Failure:

  • First meeting: lady finished sending a text before accepting a handshake
  • First meeting: guy was 20 minutes late, then didn’t apologize
  • First meeting: guy puts his coffee (yes, he brought it into meeting, slurping away) on client’s desk – without asking.
  • First meeting: guy wore flip-flops to a senior meeting at a bank.

These are simple ones. We call all of these easily correctable mistakes, ‘landmines’.

These are mistakes that can be avoided with just a little forethought and courtesy. To expand further, here’s a list of some common landmines we encounter all the time; ask yourself if you’ve ever fallen onto one:

  • Underdressed for the setting (or overdressed!)
  • Horrible Breath
  • Crazy Rushed Running to the Meeting Flop Sweats
  • Tardiness (or it’s potentially worse counterpart – waaaay too early!)
  • Forgetting your potential client’s name (or the company!)
  • Screwing up the handshake: too hard, too soft, too sweaty or any combo therein.

We have to admit, we’ve fallen onto all of them… and many more. They may be fatal to the meeting, but (on the brighter side!) they also fall into experience, and hopefully you’ll never fall there again.

The interesting thing here is that these are all mechanical failings, the ‘easy stuff’. They are counteracted by common sense, courtesy and the biggest landmine protection there is: preparedness.

Let’s take those examples I mentioned earlier, and how preparedness (and a little courtesy) would have eliminated most of them:

  • Texting Handshake Lady: We don’t know what the situation was, maybe it was horribly urgent. Who knows? She didn’t explain herself either… just did it. Our suggestion: tell whomever is on the other end of the line that you’re going into a meeting and ‘please refrain from texting me’ – while you’re outside of the building! Then turn the thing off, take a breath, and open the doors.
  • Late Guy: Anyone who lives in a major metropolitan city knows (and if you don’t, you won’t get it), late happens. You can plan all you want, give yourself 3 hours to get 20 minutes away, and still not make it – but that’s an exception. Our suggestion always? Call your meeting, and let them know you’ll be late. It’s way better to warn that you’ll be late, and not be – than being late without warning. When you get there (remember flop sweat?), take a minute to calm down, and always provide an apology. We’re Canadians. That’s what we do.
  • Coffee Guy: Drink your coffee before you get in the building. If there is ever an extenuating circumstance that leaves you with an almost full coffee, seconds before you walk in the building? Throw it away. Yes, we know throwing food away is a horrible thing, but so is a dream opportunity that would have provided endless more. Also, Coffee breath is a horrible thing!

And the last example?

  • Flip Flop Guy? He’s just an idiot.

Preparedness is the key to protecting yourself from completely screwing up the first few moments of a first meeting. If you give yourself enough time, use some tricks to remember little details (once we had a guy write the client’s name on his hand. He just couldn’t remember it. TIP: Use your left hand, you don’t want the ink to come off in a handshake!), and use a little common sense, you can avoid landmines all the time.

However, being prepared isn’t nearly enough if you really want to make that first impression a good one.

We haven’t even begun to address the myriad functional failings of first meetings. These encounters are the ones where you don’t hit any landmines at all, but you can just tell that things aren’t going well… and there are ways to mitigate this… but that will have to wait until next time.

Remember, preparedness is the secret to providing protection to first meeting landmines.

Until next time…

Terry Smith