Teaching our Kids to Make a Winning First Impression

“A breathtaking first impression was not the same as love at first sight.
But it was certainly an invitation to look into the matter. “-Lois McMaster Bujold

One of life’s greatest adventures is what becomes of the people we meet for the first time. Every relationship has its beginning, but we don’t know what will become of it at that point. Who knows, it could be a prospective spouse, BFF, boss, reference, mother-in-law (or father-in-law), client, or work colleague. None of us would be where we are today if new connections hadn’t become something great. And I don’t think for a minute that they were all random.

Here is a good example. When my son Mike graduated from college and unexpectedly returned home (after a proposed startup went broke), I came up with a list of people he should meet. At the helm was my friend Tim, who ran a ministry for young adults in our area. I called Tim and arranged a visit to a local coffee house the following week where Mike and I would be. I knew that they would get along and that something good would come of it. In short, the intro was magical (they shared contact information in about two minutes!) And Tim recruited Mike into a leadership role in his organization. That eventually led to an introduction to a beautiful (and single!) Young girl named Stevie. A year later they would get married and lead the ceremony of none other than Tim himself!

Of course, if I hadn’t initiated this connection, Mike’s life would never have been the same, and we wouldn’t have had a wonderful daughter-in-law. But another thing was key. We taught our kids how to make a good first impression at an early age. As we have always said, you never know what will come of the people you meet. So always be in your “A Game” when it happens. Fortunately, they took this advice to heart.

Interestingly, when I was teaching a life skills course a few years ago, I asked my students what the most valuable lesson of the semester was. The landslide winner was how to make a winning first impression. Children are hungry for this type of practical skill building, and the stakes are too high if we do not teach them this important lesson. Attention parents and teachers!

For some people this is a matter of course, for others an acquired skill. Those with strong social skills, some degree of extroversion, and a dose of self-confidence thrive on opportunities to meet new people. It is of course more of a challenge for introverts (who often love one-to-one tuition but not group settings), the less socially experienced, those with no confidence, and in situations where they feel like they are with a certain crowd or out of their own person. (I vividly remember struggling with this early in my career – small town kid meets high finances! Fortunately, I got over it with experience.)

There is another aspect of the world today that affects the successful “first impression”. The more we, and especially our children, consume technology and games, the less time we spend personally with others. This puts a heavy strain on relationship building and has become more common (ask any teen / young adult employer). It manifests in social awkwardness, distractibility, detachment, discomfort, and disinterest – none of which are going to win fans and affect people. Tell-tale behaviors include weak handshakes, unsteady eye contact (often looking down), phone distractions, poor body language, nervous gestures / language, and difficulty conducting a two-way conversation. We have all seen it.

The good news is that with a little training and experience, it’s a pretty easy skill to master. If I did, so can you! For the training part, here are our best tips to make a winning first impression:

  1. Seize the opportunity. You are about to meet someone who could be an amazing person in your life so act like this! And don’t forget, you are a pretty amazing person that they can meet too! Look forward to the adventure that might come. This will get your attitude right.
  2. Through your words, tone, and body language, show that you are excited to meet her. Let your excitement come through. Be positive. Smile. Stay busy all the time. Avoid distractions like the plague.
  3. Focus more on getting to know them than on them getting to know you. Nothing relieves you of meeting someone more than focusing on them in your conversation. Ask questions. Then follow the questions. And more. Listen. Listen. Listen. Being curious is the best way to manage nerves, especially when meeting people with much stronger qualifications.
  4. Be real. We often try to impress, especially in professional situations and interviews (and in social / dating encounters). We talk more. We brag. We try to be smart and funny. At its core, it’s a self-confidence that says we have to be someone else to gain favor. People see through it right away. So, relax, take a deep breath, and just be yourself. And if that’s not good enough, it shouldn’t be anymore. That’s okay!
  5. Be confident but humble. This is a balancing act, but one surefire way to ruin a first impression is to be arrogant and self-centered. Humility is always a winner.
  6. Be polite, Friendly and polite. You don’t have to be Miss Manners, but pretty close!
  7. Avoid these risks. Avoid controversial topics or private matters that require a more advanced relationship since you are just getting to know them. Remember that at the beginning you are just acquaintances.
  8. Remember (and repeat) their name. The older we get or the more people we meet at an event, the more likely we are to forget the name of someone we just met. It’s embarrassing (personal experience here!). So I want to mention her name at the beginning and at the end of our conversation. And if it’s a common first name, think of someone famous by that name so that you can remember them better.
  9. Finish on a strong note. A good close out showing that you are glad you met them will make a great impression. Even something as simple as “___, you were great to meet. I’m looking forward to seeing you again ”, I will be happy. And say it with a smile.

It is said that the first 30 seconds of an interview may not get you to the job, but it can certainly cost you. Maybe that’s not fair, but it is the way it is. Throughout life, our relationships are almost more important than anything else. Let’s help our children get off to a successful start with their children.

Dennis Trittin is the author of What I Wish I Knew At 18: Life Lessons For The Future and Parenting To Start: Raising Teenagers To Be Successful In The Real World. Through his books BlogDennis prepares students for the success of their lives and equips parents and educators in their important educational role. You can find him Here on Facebook.

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