What you say is often not nearly as important as how you say it. Most people underestimate the importance of making a positive first impression, while they overestimate their present ability to do so.
When you meet someone for the first time in any setting, your initial goal should be to appear trustworthy, likable, confident, and professional. Don’t be intimidated by this objective, which is actually really easy to achieve if you follow these 5 steps:
1. Smile first and often. Yes, this sounds incredibly obvious, but most people don’t smile nearly enough. A genuine smile is inviting and contagious. Always be the first person to smile. If someone is not smiling at you, it’s usually because you are not smiling at him. A genuine smile conveys friendliness, removes barriers, and encourages others to want to get to know you. A warm smile immediately makes you more likable.
2. Give a strong (not suffocating) handshake. A strong handshake conveys confidence and integrity, while a weak handshake makes you look like someone without any backbone. Having said that, do not try to devour the other person’s hand. Just make a nice, firm shake with 2-3 pumps up and down.
3. Maintain consistent (not creepy) eye contact. Eye contact also indicates confidence, trust, and interest in the other person, which also makes you more likable. While shaking hands and smiling at someone, look him right in the eye. Then, be sure to maintain eye contact for the majority of any conversation. (Warning: like a bone-crushing handshake, eye contact can also be taken too far.)
4. Stand up, sit up. You should not try to look like a statue, but standing up straight (or sitting up straight, when seated) makes you look more confident.
5. Remove meaningless movements. Fidgeting, tapping your leg, covering your face with your hands or fingers, and other purposeless, nervous body language will make you look weak, and it will make the people around you feel awkward. If you feel uncomfortable and need to release some energy through your body, just focus on moving your toes around inside your shoe (without tapping your feet).
Pete Leibman is the Founder of Dream Job Academy and the Author of the new book titled “I Got My Dream Job and So Can You” (AMACOM, 2012). His career advice has been featured on Fox, CBS, and CNN, and he is a popular Keynote Speaker at career events for college students and at conferences for people who work with college students.