As the saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Fortunately, Richard Branson has some great advice on how to make the best first impression possible.
In a recent blog, the Virgin Group founder goes through some of the considerations you should make before meeting someone for the first time.
“Making a good and lasting first impression is important for entrepreneurs at all stages of their careers,” Richard says. “In part, it has to do with appearance.”
As Mark Twain once said, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.” Richard notes that Twain was speaking of the 19th century, when dressing ‘properly’ was important, “whereas in many business settings today if you’re wearing a clean pair of jeans, a wrinkle free shirt and a pair of sneakers, you’ll fit right in”.
He even says that turning up in a jacket and tie to a business meeting can make a bad impression now. “In fact, it can be more risky than turning up underdressed,” he says, “as anyone who has had their fancy silk tie snipped off by yours truly will attest!”
For years, Richard’s signature look was jeans and a wool sweater. “If you saw me in a jacket and tie, it was a sure sign of bad news (it likely meant I had a meeting with bankers!),” he says. “Today I find that a pair of jeans, an open-necked white shirt and a dark casual jacket will get me through just about any occasion.
“Ties are reserved for the very rare events like weddings and funerals, but, generally speaking, I consider them an anachronism – even for bankers.”
A firm – but not bone-crushing – handshake with good eye contact is something that will have been drilled into many at school. “This moment of human contact is essential,” Richard says. “And that look in the other person’s eye shouldn’t be a quick glance. Sustain eye contact for as long as it takes to let them know that you really see them.”
But don’t over do it, he warns. “Sometimes a bone-crushing handshake will be accompanied by a lengthy, piercing stare, which only makes the recipient uncomfortable.”
But, Richard says, trust is crucial in every relationship and it’s important to establish the connection. “Just think of how often you’ve heard someone say, ‘I just didn’t trust the look in his eyes.’”
“Finally, what you say matters,” Richard says. “The ability to communicate effectively is key to every aspect of our lives, and nowhere is that more true than in the business world.”
He says it’s important to be genuine and direct in a first meeting. “This will speak volumes about who you are – information that cannot be conveyed even on the best resume.”
But don’t try too hard to be funny. “If you’re funny and it’s natural and spontaneous, that’s fine,” he says. “But don’t use humour that’s forced and scripted – even my wife frequently reminds me that my sense of humour is ‘an acquired taste’.
“Not everyone can carry off a joke at a business meeting, so go easy: Be sure that your jokes are appropriate and that the person you’re meeting is going to understand them. Unless you’re a comedian, it’s unlikely that you want to be remembered as ‘really funny’.”
And Richard’s final piece of advice for making a great first impression? “Smile, be yourself, look them in the eye and knock ‘em dead!”