The Essentials Of Creating a “Right” Impression

And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

Anais Nin

I was at a Starbucks jotting down ideas for a book I’m writing when I overheard a weathered old man ask a pre-occupied woman, “do you know how to catch a polar bear?”  

Before she could answer, he proceeded to tell her!  

Life can be delightfully random at a Starbucks. Life, though, is seldom random at a business meeting where people are wonderfully consistent.  

Last week I sat in via Zoom on a product development meeting with my new client, Winnie (names changed). She’s fun, articulate and insightful – though at this meeting she seemed to shrink before my eyes.   

She was lead on the project, had done her prep and, yet, she was soft-spoken, allowed herself to be interrupted and contradicted, smiled in a humble manner and lacked the energy needed to propel her ideas around the Zoom “table.”  

Later, during our debrief to determine what had happened, she offhandedly mentioned that her father always told her that,‘the meek shall inherit the earth.’

I’m not brazen enough to contradict The Beatitudes, but I do know that “the meek” don’t get heard at a conference table – on Zoom or in person!

We often think that “what” we say is more important than “how” we say it.  

The truth is just the opposite.  

Across the board, studies indicate that in any given conversation up to a full 80% of what we pay attention to is the non-verbal – body language, facial expressions, tone of voice.

Let that sink in. Only 20% of what we pay attention to is the actual content of what’s said.

What this means is that our non-verbal has to match our words and our words have to match our non-verbal.  

When confused or distracted, people will “listen” to our bodies and not our words.

Enthusiasm and conviction have to be embodied so as to create an impression that assures people you know your stuff, you’re competent – in short, that you’re trustworthy.

We bemoan the b.s. artist who advances through the company’s ranks but often, the flimflam artist gets ahead because they are good at creating the “right” image.

I’m not encouraging you to lie or to be someone you’re not.  

I am, though, encouraging you not to shrink from who you are and can be.  

If you believe you’re offering value then you need to fully express that value – with your words AND with your non-verbal.

10 Basic Elements Needed To Generate an Effective Impression 

  1. Do you believe what you’re saying? If you don’t then you should be nervous! If you have doubts, then be confident in your doubts. Be confident in asking for reactions and feedback. Be curious and not intimidated. Know, though, why you’re saying what you’re saying and let that conviction come across in strength of voice, appropriate energy and volume levels.
  • Be present to the other(s), not viewing them as the “enemy” but rather as people who see things from another perspective. Again, be confident in your curiosity. Only by understanding their p.o.v. will you be capable of pivoting, explaining and generating clarity.
  • Listen. You can’t listen without being present and you can’t be present without listening. Let the other know you are listening with your eyes, with your face, with your body posture. Look like they are the center of your attention. Listen so that you do not feel a need to be defensive. “My gut reaction here to what you said is to become defensive. I don’t want to do that so tell me more.”
  • Smile. Earlier this year I had open heart surgery. In the interminable minutes prior to the surgery, while I was being prepped, the nurses smiled, the technicians smiled, the surgeon smiled, the anesthesiologist smiled. Sure, they may have been a bunch of sadists – but – I prefer to think that their smiles had something to do with their collective confidence and with how they wanted me to feel. I’m not advocating for a goofy smile, not an inappropriate smile, but to have that moment of a wink and a nod.
  • Know your purpose. Oftentimes people sound and look unsure and / or insecure because they don’t know going into a meeting what their role is or could be. And so they sound tentative or worse, conciliatory without being engaged.
  • Don’t make a statement in a questioning tone of voice. State statements. Ask questions. Inflect accordingly.
  • You don’t have to dominate a meeting to make an impression. Find your own way to contribute.
  • Be aware of what your face looks like when you are “in your head.” Ask trusted folks to reflect back. Years ago I was told by a student that I look intimidating. I was surprised – and amused – as I thought I was anything but intimidating. Usually, when I’m lost in my thoughts, it’s because I’m thinking of what I’m going to say – or – because I’m intimidated by the other person! Again, be present.
  • Remember that people are consistent. If you are having a meeting with colleagues you know then you do know how to prepare. You can be “nice” without playing other people’s games.
  • Show up! Know what you want people to know, to do and to feel by meeting’s endBe clear on these three things and then speak and act in whatever way(s) needed to convey that clarity with energy and focus.

Remember – if you don’t believe in you then why should anyone else?

If you’re not mindfully creating an impression then folks will create an impression of you – usually one that is neither effective nor favorable!

now THAT’S the business of confidence!

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