Sunday, August 24, 2008

Making The Best Impression - Meeting and Greeting

When speaking to a group of people, whether it is up front or one-on-one, you are representing a salable product: YOU. The way in which you walk, speak and appear makes an impression.

What is your body language saying? Do you look trustworthy, confident, and competent, or ill-at-ease and timid? Much has been said about the importance of body language when greeting people, yet examples abound every day of people getting it wrong. Here are a few things to remember when greeting people.

I used to report to an organizational VP who said he decided on a job candidate at the handshake. No matter how much I howled my disapproval, he was resolute in his belief. Studies show that he was not alone, and apparently lots of people size you up in the first few seconds. In that brief moment, it is not what you say that matters most but often what your handshake says about you. A limp, sweaty, or weak handshake leaves someone with less confidence in you. A firm handshake with two or three slow but steady shakes usually meets the need. Please avoid squeezing too hard. Maintaining eye contact and smiling (if appropriate), while shaking hands is almost always advisable.

Making eye contact is very hard for some people. If done right, it is associated with being trustworthy, confident and sincere. If done poorly, it can make a person feel very uncomfortable. How do you feel when in a group setting and the person talking to you is continually looking around the room for someone else? This makes people feel less important. The goal is to make people feel as though you are having a one-on-one conversation with them.

To maintain appropriate eye contact makes people feel included and important. Look at the eyes of the person you're speaking to. If you are addressing a small or large group, mentally break the room into three parts. Find one one individual in group #1 and focus on them for 4-5 seconds, then shift your gaze to someone in group #2, etc. People sub-consciously will feel you are including them.

To keep communication open between you and those your are meeting, it is important to keep your body language open, as well. Standing behind a podium, crossing your arms or hands, is considered a closed position. Avoid putting anything in between you and the listener. Keep hands and arms unfolded, and if appropriate, do not hold anything either (e.g., papers, binder, etc.).

Some people use hand gestures to punctuate virtually everything they say. Vigorously using both hands while conversing with people can be distracting for your listener if done to excess. It is OK to use your hands in a way that feels natural. If gesturing while speaking, try keeping your hands within the “TV box” (i.e., roughly where you would see someone’s hands if they were delivering the news on television), Gesturing that is outsie the TV box may be too wild, and a distraction to the point of discomforting for someone you are greeting.

Poor posture almost always telegraphs a lack of enthusiasm, confidence, and ability. Staying balanced on both feet, standing tall, with your eyes ahead sends the right message: strong and confident. If seated, do not slump or lean the chair back on two legs. Either of these behaviors is distracting to the listener and gets in the way of your message.

Please remember to practice these basics and close the "sale" every time.

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