You Have 17 Seconds—or Less—to Impress a Client. But You Can Do It…

You’re meeting with the client for the first time. But the truth is, you really don’t have 30 minutes or an hour to make an impression. Psychologists, writers, and seminar leaders caution that strangers (and that includes clients) form an opinion of a person they are meeting for the first time in the first seven to 17 seconds.
 
That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can stack the deck in your favor. These seven common-sense tips will help you make a positive first impression:
 
(These tips are based on How To Make A Strong First Impression: Seven Tips That Really Work(Copyright 2004) by communication expert Bill Lampton Ph.D.)   
 
1. Show that the other person—not you—is the center of action and conversation.
 
If you illustrate that the spotlight is on you only, and you’ll miss opportunities. Show that you are other-centered, and clients will feel engaged.
 
Of course, you want to show what you know. Didn’t the client retain your firm for its expertise? Yes. But your job is probably to get details. That means listening …  
 
2. Demonstrate good listening skills.
 
Give positive verbal cues: “Hmmm … tell me more, please.” “What did you do next?” Just as actors benefit from prompts, your client will welcome your assistance in keeping the exchange going. Don’t be afraid to repeat an answer. You want to get it right.
 
And remember: Nonverbally, you show that you’re a skilled listener by maintaining steady eye contact. Yes, you have to write notes. But keep in mind how you would respond to someone who never looked up at you from the page.  
 
3. Use the name of client frequently.
 
“Mrs. Smith, let me reiterate…” You should have the client’s background memorized, but you’ll make the interview more personal by including the listener’s name often.
 
4. Be careful with humor.
 
Because you don’t know a new client’s sensitivities, joking might establish barriers you can’t overcome, either now or later. Friendly and funny are two different traits. Stick to friendly, helpful and businesslike.
 
5. Give up the need to be right.
Confrontations with somebody you’ve just met will destroy rapport before you even start building it. Wait until you have established credibility before you challenge another’s statements.
 
6. Appearance counts.
You think that would go without saying. But keep in mind: the client meeting may come up suddenly, whether or not you dressed for it that morning. Always be prepared. If you go to the office wearing casual clothes, it is imperative that you store professional clothing in your office so that you can change quickly if the need arises.
 
7. Speaking style impacts first impression … maybe more than you wish.
Listeners judge intelligence, cultural level, education, and even leadership ability by the words we select—and by how we say them. So speak up; don’t mumble. Enunciate clearly. Alter your pitch to avoid the dullness of a monotone. Display a little animation in both voice and facial expression. Gesture naturally, without "canning" your movements.