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Master This ‘Presidential Secret’ When It Comes to Making Good First Impressions

September 30, 2009

Have you ever met a President of the United States? When I work in the DC area, I ask the participants in my workshops that question. Usually there are a few people who have had the experience.

It doesn’t matter if the president was Reagan, Clinton, Obama or one of the Bushes, when they tell us about the encounter, the descriptions are very similar:

“I felt like I was the most important person in the room.”

“He seemed genuinely interested in meeting me,”

Or the one that I’ve heard from both Republicans and Democrats:
“I was shocked, because I completely disagree with the guy, but you know, I really liked him!”

These are great first impressions. Presidents can meet hundreds of persons each day, and yet consistently they get these reactions.

So, what’s the presidential secret? These guys know how to make “personal” connections. They don’t try to be “presidential.” They understand the value of being personable. They make personal connections by genuinely caring about each person that they meet.

What are these connecting skills?

First, understand your power. Think of making a connection as giving people your positive energy through eye contact and the way you shake hands. If you emit positive energy, you can change the emotional energy in the room. If you make the people in the room feel better, then you have the emotional power. If you have the power, you are the emotional leader.

It is said that managers are left-brained, or logical, and leaders are right-brained, or emotional. Good leadership often comes down to inspiration and motivation- emotional traits.

Second, remove your physical, protective walls. How you use your face, voice, and body can be a barrier that prevents you from making a connection with the other person. Show them an “open” or caring face. When I taught acting, I used to say, look at the camera as if it is a person you like, and the audience will love you.

My friend, communications guru Arch Lustberg, describes it even better. He says, “Look at the other person the same way you look at a baby in a crib. You welcome the baby into the world. You lift your brow, you make eye contact, and you let the baby know that you are no threat.” It may feel strange at first, but it works.

The open face isn’t a big ole toothy grin; it doesn’t necessarily include a smile. The open face is the face that makes the other person smile at you.

Remove the walls, and you will make a positive impression.

Finally, get in what I call “The Helpful Head.” You have two jobs when you meet someone. Your jobs are to listen and to help the other person. If you believe it is never about you, then the other person will be much more interesting.

If you are in The Helpful Head, every interaction focuses on having a positive impact. Listen so you know what they need. Respond so you know that you help.

Last year, I was training engineers in Baltimore. I was talking about leadership and making a connection: giving energy, using an open face, and The Helpful Head. In other words, make individuals feel like they are the only person in the room.

One guy in the back of the room raised his hand. He said, “I met Clinton, and I’ll agree with you there, but I just spent 20 years in the Army. I never met anybody like that who was in uniform.”
I told him that surprised me, and I asked him if he was sure.

He thought for a second, and then as a light bulb seemed to go on over his head, he said, “Wait, I’m wrong, the 4 star generals that I met fit your description exactly.”

If leaders understand the importance of making a personal connection, then maybe we should take their lead.

Business is about relationships. Relationships begin with first impressions. Giving energy, using a caring face, and having a helpful head are communication tools for building valuable relationships.

They will give you a competitive edge in business.

So practice using these tools and you will master the presidents’ secret to great personal first impressions.

By: Bill Graham
Faculty, Institute for Organization Management
President, Graham Corporate Communications

Bill GrahamBill Graham, president of Graham Corporate Communications, specializes in helping leaders, sales teams, and other professionals become more engaging and successful communicators. Bill’s approach focuses on specific communication tools such as likeability and storytelling in a unique way. He also works with organizations to develop and improve leaders, managers, marketing strategies, and corporate culture. Bill spent over a decade as Director of Creative Affairs for Procter & Gamble Productions supervising the P&G soap operas: Guiding Light, As the World Turns, and Another World. He trained writers, analyzed audiences, and delivered story notes for 7000 hours of television. Writers that he discovered and developed won “Best Writing” Emmy’s 5 of the last 7 years he was at P&G. He also taught acting at numerous studios including Stella Adler Conservatory. Prior to his TV work, he was the Producing Director at Olney Theatre in Olney, MD. In addition to Institute for Organization Management, Bill is also on the faculty of New York University’s Tisch School of Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management.


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