It’s human nature to judge, both consciously and unconsciously.
As much as we like to believe that we are in complete control of our thoughts, we all make snap assessments of others in a matter of seconds. People are categorized as friend or foe based on the instinctual impulses deep in our reptilian brains. Rational thought only comes into play later; the first impression is a gut reaction. Recognizing the immediacy of these judgments can help you create a good first impression and a lasting reputation.
Whether you are meeting someone in an interview or online at your local coffee shop, it’s important to know how to introduce yourself to set the right tone for your conversation and control your first impression.
Everyone needs a short, pithy pitch to use for introductions.
You're bound to meet new people whether you're shy or a total extrovert; it could be when you start a new job, attend a networking event, or your friend introduces you to someone they know. You don't want to stumble over simple facts, such as who you are, what you do, and what you're all about.
Trust me, nothing feels worse than screwing up something as simple what you do for work — but it happens when you're put on the spot and don't have a confident statement stored in your memory. Creating a set of phrases you can pull from your memory (rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!) helps you come across as polished, confident, and professional.
Not every situation requires the same approach when you're meeting someone for the first time. While you'll keep certain elements the same, you'll want to tweak a few things for each interaction to ensure you make the best possible impression. Below, you'll find four common scenarios and exactly how you can be on top of your game in each.
For an in-person interview, follow these three steps.
1. Stay off your phone while you wait in the lobby or interview room. You'll want to stay calm and aware; it's jarring (and a little embarrassing!) to find an outstretched hand when you're buried in your phone scrolling through Instagram.
2. Give a firm, confident handshake and smile as you say, "Thank you for meeting with me today," or a simple, "Hi, [insert name], I'm [insert name]. Pleasure to meet you!"
3. Oftentimes your interviewer will start off by saying, "Tell me about yourself."
This is where your prepared talking points come in handy (also known as your elevator pitch!). The ideal mix is to give a bit of your background and then bring things to the present.
For example: "My passion is creating amazing customer interfaces. I have eight years of graphic design experience, including time spent at [X company] and [X company]. I transitioned to UX/UI when I realized how satisfying it is to [explain why you love your current career]. While I've enjoyed my time at [your current company], I'm looking for opportunities to [insert skill or career goal — if you can tie this to something from the company's mission statement or job posting, do so!].
Most people at networking events are just as uncomfortable as you are, even if they seem like seasoned pros. This is when you really have a chance to practice introducing yourself to a bunch of willing strangers. No one likes standing around by themselves, so practice approaching and introducing yourself at these type of functions. Follow these easy steps to get started.
1. Pick your target.
2. Pump yourself up. Remind yourself that you're a friendly, interesting (insert whatever adjectives you want) person and you're excited to meet someone new.
3. Approach your person, smile (or at the very least look friendly!), and say, "Hi, I'm [insert name], I'm a [profession, or interested in X topic]. What brought you to this event?" If the person was a speaker, or if you know something about them (perhaps you have a mutual acquaintance, or you found you went to the same college during some pre-event LinkedIn research), you can make your introduction more tailored.
Whether you know all your colleagues or not, talking a little bit about your role in the company before you start a presentation helps provide context for your coworkers (and makes you look put-together). Follow the steps outlined below to look like a pro.
1. Introduce yourself and explain what you do for the company and why you're presenting.
Example: Good afternoon! I'm [name], and I [describe your function in the company]. For the next [length of presentatation], I'm going to explain [or talk to you about X topic]. (This next part is optional and a best practice if you think your presentation is comprehension and will address most common questions). If you think of a question, please jot it down and wait until the end to ask so we can keep the momentum going.
2. Set expectations for how long your presentation will last and whether you'll take questions as you go along or prefer them at the end.
3. Get started!
The steps you'll follow for introducing yourself at a meeting are very similar to what you should do before a presentation.
1. Give your name, department, and role at the company. You may think that everyone already knows who you are, but you never know who needs a reminder.
Example: Good morning! I'm [name]. I am the [your role/function] for our company.
2. Provide the estimated end time for the meeting, hopeful outcomes/decisions, and any other who, what, when, where, why establishing details.
Example: Our hard stop is 9:30; by then, I'd like us to [insert desired meeting end results — this is usually a decision needed by the group] and decide on a follow up for [any other tasks].
3. Have your meeting!
Your elevator pitch or introduction of yourself should convey the depths of your experience, what you are looking for, and how someone can help. Obviously, tailoring it to the audience will make it that much more persuasive.
Set your intentions for the conversation that you expect to have so that you are prepared. Whether you are looking for a new job and introducing yourself in a cover letter or interview, gunning for a promotion, or just want a real estate scoop, know what you want to convey and set the tone.
Practice your pitch! Say it to your kids, your friends, your parents, and anyone who will listen so that you can be sure you are introducing yourself, and what you want, in an articulate way.
Repeat other people’s names in your discussions to demonstrate their value to you and to harness their attention. Everyone wants to feel important. Convince the person that you have a genuine interest in her and care about what she has to say.
We all know that body language is important.
Making eye contact, having a firm handshake, a strong stance, and a smiling face all convey a sense of confidence and command to your audience. If you aren’t feeling particularly confident at any moment, you need to fake it so that others won’t pick up on your negativity. Confidence is contagious, which means that when you act confident you will start feeling more confident and then others will perceive you as confident AND competent. Visualize yourself having the exchange that you want and feel it happening.
Be aware of what signals you send with your stance, your tone of voice, your posture, your gestures and your facial expressions (eye contact is key!). Open your body and your mind by communicating nonthreatening enthusiasm. The more receptive you are, the more receptive the other person will be.
This is not the time to pretend that appearances don’t matter.
Often judgments are made before the first word is uttered. People notice the way you dress, the way you carry yourself, and your overall presentation. As much as this is a subjective interpretation, you don’t want a negative perception of your style to overshadow the substance of your meeting.
You want to feel comfortable and, more importantly, feel good about your fashion and beauty sense while still considering the overall impression you give off to others. Get some physical exercise before a big meeting to look healthy and alert at first glance. In professional networking settings, be serious about how you look, act, and how others perceive you. Research the cultural and workplace norms regarding appropriate dress code, color scheme, and modesty, so that you can be respectful of others as well as yourself.
Much like confidence, positivity is contagious. Exuding authentic passion and excitement — whether in a job interview or letter of introduction — is more likely to yield a deeper relationship and establish a memorable reputation.
While this may seem obvious, so many people forget to make an effort to be positive and trustworthy in professional interactions. Purposefully emit positive emotional energy and ask questions to elicit responses. Most people’s favorite subjects are themselves and self-revelations make people happier, so let them speak more.
Demonstrate your desire to be of service to others by asking specific questions, offering to make connections, send relevant articles, invite people to conferences, provide recommendations, and generally telling the person through your follow up actions that you are thinking of them.
In the connected world we live in, it’s important to remember that you are making a first impression before you even meet someone. Remember that others will look you up online as soon as you come on their radar so you need to be sure that your reputation online is what you want it to be. Be your own PR director! Control the message in all forms so that the first impression you give off is definitely a good one.
Establishing your professional identity can empower your next step. You want to build a persuasive and effective brand across all media outlets. Consider your values, talents, and career goals in creating resumes, LinkedIn profiles, and elevator pitches that work to bolster your expertise. Think about how you want to be perceived by others in your network who can then evangelize you to potential employers and other connections.
Elana Konstant is a career coach and consultant focusing on professional women in career transition. A former lawyer, she founded Konstant Change Coaching to empower women to create the career they want. Change is good. Elana will help you find out why. Her career advice has been featured on Glamour.com, Babble, Motherly, and other outlets. You can learn more by visiting her website, konstantchangecoaching.com.