Making a fantastic impression on people

Prague Club Magazine, November 2005

Jana is a social butterfly. In the past five years she has gone to most of the social events the golden city has had to offer and in more than one way has become the epitome of Prague’s vibrant social life.

At the beginning she was self-conscious and didn’t feel comfortable with her social skills and ability to network efficiently. But after spending several evenings studying the social dynamic between the diverse groups of people she met and mingled with, she soon learned to move, greet and interact comfortably with practically anyone she met. Her blooming self-confidence soon allowed her to watch and learn how others behaved at the various mixers she was invited to. Studying the way people interact with one another and observing them would get along, or not, was something Jana consciously did at every opportunity. It was a great way to learn how to behave with others, and more importantly, how not to.

She eventually noticed John making the rounds at one of the business mixers they were both attending. To the casual observer, John seemed to be doing all the right things when it comes to making a good first impression: shaking hands, introducing himself and passing out business cards. However, to Jana’s well-trained eye, John may have been making an impression, but it certainly wasn’t a good one.

For instance, Jana quickly noticed that John’s voice, already loud, had the tendency to increase in volume with every drink, which he downed easily. Listening to his conversations, she learned a lot about him and his life in Prague. He spoke openly about his business, even going so far to joke about his business with the secretary. But at the same time, Jana noticed that John never had much time or interest in finding out about anyone else. He was so engrossed in making a great impression that he didn’t notice that he had talked one of his interlocutors into a corner. Not only did he cut her off from the rest of the mixer, he wasn’t perceptive enough to notice that she kept looking anxiously over his shoulder for someone to come over and rescue her.

John definitely made an impression, but not necessarily the one he wanted. Obviously, all he managed to achieve that evening was to be perceived as a rude and unpleasant person and someone most people wanted to get away from.

While many of us attend parties and mixers just for the fun of it (or for the food), it’s impossible to ignore the potential and possibilities these social gatherings offer. They offer an excellent platform that makes it relatively easy to promote oneself and one’s your company in a relaxed and comfortable environment.

But, as Jana noticed at the many mixers she attended, there often exists a wide gap between the professionals, the amateurs and the clearly incompetent.

So, how can you make a fantastic impression in a way that promotes you or your company successfully?

As we all know, human beings are social animals. We are in a constant state of social interaction. And the golden rule to social interaction is to treat other people the way you would like to be treated. Rather than trying too hard to impress the biggest fish at the party, the best way to make a stellar impression is to simply focus on something you think the person you’re talking to would like to talk about. Being able to make others feel comfortable is one of the most important ways of leaving a lasting impression.

The ability to make people around you feel comfortable is something anyone can learn. At its most basic, it is about establishing rapport by finding things in common. We are naturally more attracted to people who think and act in the same way we do.

The challenge occurs when we meet someone who expresses himself in a way that is difficult to related to. To overcome this, it is important to try to synchronize yourself with the person you’re talking to.

This aptitude of synchronizing ourselves with someone else and creating a climate of trust and understanding isn’t always easy. To be on the same wavelength we need to be able to see things from the other person’s point of view (without necessarily agreeing with it). And try to communicate with them on an emotional rather than on a rational level. We are more likely to feel positive about someone with whom we have related to on an emotional level than otherwise.

In a situation where people come from different cultures and backgrounds, creating synchronicity can sometimes be tricky. If the apparent similarities are too vague to focus on, another easy way to develop synchronicity is to “match” the other person. This is as simple as adopting parts of the other person’s behavior, such as gestures, facial expressions, forms of speech, tone of voice, etc. When done subtly, a feeling of rapport between people can be created.

The ability to listen and show interest in what someone is saying is another sure-fire of making a fantastic impression. We all know how pleasant it feels to have an audience listening to us attentively. However, contrary to popular opinion, listening is not a passive activity! It is a conscious effort that requires focus and active involvement. People trust and appreciate a good listener much more than a good talker. Being able to give someone your full attention will go a long way in establishing a favorable lasting impression.

Here are a few ideas on how to become a more attentive listener:

  • Try to maintain eye contact with the person you are speaking to. Glancing around a room or down at the floor is a sure sign that you’re not interested what someone is trying to tell you.
  • Asking questions. If you are not sure what someone is trying to say, don’t be afraid to ask. It’s perfectly acceptable to say, “Do you mean …?” or “Did I understand you to say …?” It’s also a good idea to repeat what someone has said in your own words to confirm that you have correctly understood.
  • Keep an open mind. Listening for statements that happen to support our own opinions and beliefs or that that we find personally interesting is something we often do, without even being conscious of it. Try to avoid it.
  • Give feedback and engage people around the conversation. It is important to show people that you understand what they are saying by making intelligent comments. Simply nodding you head and adding an occasional “I see” or “That’s interesting” will give the person you’re speaking to the impression that what they are saying is going through one ear and out the other. Instead engage the speaker and those around you by making the effort to think and comment on what’s being said.

People who are able rise to the occasion socially have a talent for connecting with people on an emotional level. They make an impression by making others feel comfortable and by actively listening to the people they are speaking to. Finally, they know that the best way to be interesting is to be interested.

Enjoy the party!