Research

Emboldening Advice for First Encounters

Tips for small talk and making a first impression



First encounters are often interspersed across our day and careers. Client meetings, trade conferences, networking events, and job interviews provide just a few examples of situations where we’re meeting new people, and need to leave a good impression on them. Two recurring ‘micro-situations’ are very important for first impressions: entering a room, and engaging in small talk. In his book Simply Irresistible, Dr. Raj Persaud discusses these situations, and provides emboldening advice to succeed in first encounters.

Entering a room of people we don’t know can be difficult and scary. It’s often worst for those of us who are more introverted, or who lack confidence in social situations. Surprisingly, Dr. Persaud describes shyness as a bonus because it’s often more appealing to others than extraversion. What advice does he offer for overcoming the nerves and challenges associated with entering a room? Three straightforward tips:

1. Get there early. If you’re nervous about going to an event, or attending a meeting, arrive early and settle into your new location. It tends to be easier to break into conversation with people earlier on at an event where they haven’t yet settled into group patterns;

2. Don’t compare yourself to the most sociable, charming person you know. Take a moment to notice the people in the room who are not lighting it up, and note that you don’t need to be a pro to succeed in social situations; and

3. Before approaching someone new, do some reconnaissance. Take an active interest in what is going on around you in the room, and with the person you are intending to approach, and use it to spark the first conversation.

Once you’ve approached the person you want to speak to, the likelihood is that you’ll need to engage in some form of small talk. Here, Dr. Raj Persaud provides key five tips for those wanting to leave a favourable first impression:

1. Make sure you change the subject as soon as you detect any signs of boredom from the other person;

2. Come armed with a wide range of subjects that you can comfortably talk about to someone you are meeting for the first time (weather perhaps being a stalwart favourite for the Brits!);

3. Work out what you have in common, and steer the conversation that way. This involves you sharing things about yourself with the other person, and as the conversation and relationship builds, there should be a reciprocity to this;

4. Keep things light and humorous, and don’t take yourself too seriously; and

5. Give compliments: a good format is to give a compliment and then ask a follow-up question, e.g. ‘that’s a lovely dress – where did you get it from?’.

Having read that you may see the ways in which you have been ‘small-talked’ in the past. In some ways, it’s a manipulation, or even a seduction. But then again, isn’t it a compliment that someone has made the effort to entertain and engage you?