How to Make a Great First Impression

Woman greeting an elderly couple.
Aim to make a great first impression rather than worry about your social anxiety. Getty / Chad Springer

If you've battled social anxiety disorder (SAD) your whole life, making good first impressions may be far from your mind when meeting new people. In fact, you may be more focused on not slipping up, not saying the wrong thing, and not showing signs of anxiety.

But guess what? If you flip that situation around and start focusing on what you can do to make the greatest first impression ever—you may ironically find yourself less focused on what not to do and what might go wrong.

Don't take it too far, you aren't trying to be perfect. Your goal should be to develop your skills at making a good impression so that it comes more naturally, you no longer have to stress about meeting people for the first time, and you know what to say.

Now, it goes without saying that you've got to get your anxiety under control before you even make an attempt at the great first impression. If you have not done so yet, get yourself some talk therapy, see a doctor to determine whether you might be a good candidate for medication, and make sure to treat yourself right with respect to getting enough sleep, eating right, and getting regular exercise.

Now, back to making a great first impression.

While you've probably heard the usual tips about having a great handshake, remembering names (by repeating them when you hear them), and offering up a smile, there are things you can do that go beyond the obvious.

1. Hold your own in conversation.

Have you ever been wowed by someone you first met? What stood out to you about that person? Chances are he or she was genuine, spoke from the heart, and did not censor what he or she was going to say. We remember people who are forthright when we first meet them because most people tend to hold back.

So, the next time you meet someone for the first time, don't be afraid to say "I have to be honest, I've been nervous about coming to this party with so many guests. But you seem so friendly and welcoming, I would love to have a chance to get to know each other better."

Don't think that being direct and honest has to mean pretending you aren't anxious or nervous. On the contrary, this is a time to share your worries as a way of breaking the ice.

2. Self disclose.

While you are being open, upfront, and honest, be sure to throw in a dose of self-disclosure for good measure. What does this look like?

A bit like when you shared that you were nervous in step 1. The difference is that here you start talking about yourself with the goal of encouraging others to do the same. Doing so helps others to feel like they know you better and makes a better first impression than holding all your cards close to your chest.

For example, you might say, "I've been asked to head up the steering committee for the new playground that's being built in our neighborhood.

I have to admit I'm a little overwhelmed by the whole thing."

Don't over-disclose, but share enough about yourself to give others something to grab on to—and get to know you better.

3. Offer praise and encouragement.

Don't fudge on the details—find something about the person you are meeting that you can compliment. Doing so will always make a great first impression because you've shown the other person that you are interested, observant, and that you think highly of some characteristic that the person displays.

If you can't think of anything to say, it can be as simple as "Thanks for being on time."

4. Be agreeable.

When you first start talking to someone, it is not the time to argue. Try to find common ground when talking about trivial matters, and see what you share in common.

Sources:

Fontana D. Social Skills at Work. Routledge: New York: 1990.

Fox, S. Business Etiquette for Dummies. For Dummies: 2008.

Ramsey RD. How to Say the Right Thing Every Time. Corwin Press: 2008.

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