The two most common questions I’m asked by engineers is how to manage nerves and how to make a great first impression. It all comes down to preparation and having a process. Here are twelve ways to make a great first impression for a meeting or networking event.

1.Have a purpose to your network/meeting – If you are clear about your desired outcome, you are much more likely to achieve it.

2.Do your research – Where possible, do your research because it shows respect and interest – prepare a question or two that shows you have a genuine interest in the person.

3.Listen to the news headlines – Before you head out to a network/meeting listen to the news as this will always give you something to talk about.

4.Stand tall – A person with their head up is more impressive than a person staring down at their feet.

5.Be attentive – Turning your whole body to acknowledge someone and shake their hand, makes them feel significant.

6.Hold eye contact – Holding eye contact and maintaining it for one extra second, helps make a genuine connection but don’t turn it into a staring competition!

7.Smile – Put the other person at ease, and mask your own insecurities or uncertainties. If you focus on making them feel good you’ll forget your own nerves.

8.Ask lots of questions – Look for common ground, someone with common interests is more memorable and you want to be remembered. Ask ‘how do you fill your day?’ rather than ‘what do you do?’  because it lends itself to a broader and more interesting conversation.

9.Make connections – Help people wherever you can, it will make you feel good and will help develop meaningful relationships.

10.Record useful contact information – Make notes about every contact you meet as soon as is practicable after the event, with reminders of conversations etc.

11.Follow up – Always follow up when you said you would and by whichever means you agreed. Be prompt, polite and reliable.

12.Practice starting conversations – Practice as often as you can – it could be at the coffee shop, ticket office or taxi queue; make ‘making conversation’ second nature so that you communicate with authenticity

The last point is in fact the most important. Be prepared to practice talking to people in non-critical, informal situations so that you can get it right when it is important to you. The more you practice the more confident you become. You only have one opportunity to make a great first impression and in business those opportunities can be career changing. Communicating effectively with customers, colleagues and the media can be enormously rewarding when you get it right.

If you want an unfair advantage of being taught by a communications expert, sign up for my Communication Skills for Engineers programme I’m running for RINA – there are limited numbers, so sign up now.