Meeting and befriending new people isn’t easy. Even the extraverts among us can have a hard time standing out.
At the same time, though, meeting new people is unavoidable in our modern work environment. We need to meet — and impress — new people whenever we go to an interview, join a new team, contact a new client, and so on.
When you meet someone for the first time, you have a limited amount of time to establish a rapport. Starting any business relationship off on the right foot is key for continued success. Some people seem naturally more affable than others, but there is plenty you can do to make yourself stand out — and I’m not talking about wearing a fluorescent pink suit.
The challenge, when meeting new people, is to be more than memorable. It’s to make a good impression. After all, it’s nearly impossible to get past a bad first impression.
How to stand out
This might sound counterintuitive, but I’ve realized that one of the best ways to stand out when I’m meeting someone is to keep my mouth shut! Whenever possible, I let people talk for a while, and I listen closely to what they’re saying. Then, I attempt to relate to them based on similar experiences I’ve had. I respond in a way that shows interest, adds value, shares insight, and builds rapport. I try to stay away from a personal sales pitch and prioritize an interesting conversation instead.
The above is obviously just one small move in the delicate but complex choreography of conversation. One famous, if disputed, theory even states that communication is only 7 percent verbal and 93 percent nonverbal. Some say that mirroring your conversation partner’s body language and speech patterns sends a subconscious signal that the two of you are in harmony. I often catch myself doing this subconsciously, but be careful not to look awkward if you’re making a conscious attempt to mirror someone.
A simpler tip comes from Dale Carnegie, who wrote, “A person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” In other words: If you want people to remember you, remember them first. If you directly address a person by name in conversation, you’ll automatically attract their attention. At my first job at Deloitte Consulting, my partner always repeated people’s names as soon as he was introduced to them. It’s a nice little trick that has helped me to remember names more easily when meeting new people.
When it comes to making a good first impression, being prepared is key. Here’s what I do before, during, and after meeting a new person to maximize my chances of standing out:
Before: I always research the people I’m going to meet, with the goal of identifying commonalities or other things I can mention during the conversation. I check their social media profiles: LinkedIn for their work experience, Twitter for their personal views, and Facebook for their hobbies and interest. If I can, I also try to find a YouTube video of them speaking so I can get a feel for their demeanor. For a big event, I’ll familiarize myself with the guest list and research the people most relevant to me and my work.
During: When I meet someone, I repeat their name — e.g., “Nice to meet you, Dave” — to help myself remember it. I also use their name wherever appropriate in the conversation. I make sure to give people my undivided attention, and I avoid talking too much about myself. I opt to listen and then relate by sharing experiences in line with what the other person is sharing with me. I also make a conscious effort to resist the temptation to check my phone and my watch, as doing so can look rude.
After: I give it a couple of days, and then I follow up with the person I was talking to, even if just to thank them for their time or make sure we have each other’s contact details. Another option is to share with them an article on something we talked about. I connect on LinkedIn, and I regularly check in with my new contacts as time goes on to ensure our new relationship continues.
I do use a few tools to help me with all this. For example, I use social media to research people before a meeting, and I save articles that come up in my research with Evernote’s web clipper so I can read or refer to them later. I also use Covve, my own product, to scan business cards and to get news alerts regarding my contacts’ companies and industries.
In our hectic world, everything and everyone is competing for our diminishing attention at all times. It has therefore become more important than ever to stand out when we meet new people. People won’t think of you when new opportunities arise if they don’t remember you.
Tips and tricks aside, practice makes perfect. In fact, every time you meet someone new, it’s yet another opportunity to work on the way that you present yourself. So get out there and network — you might be surprised by how much of a difference it can make.