A first meeting can be a trip into unchartered waters. Thankfully, a lot of research helps with tips. Here are some of them and one of my first meetings, as a exemplification.
So, you put your best outfit and your smile on and you enter the meeting room. Tadam! No applauses? Indeed a suit and a smile help for a good first impression. And there is more. It is well-known that it takes seven seconds to make a first impression. In seven seconds your suit, smile, handshake, gestures, facial expression, eye contact, posture and tone of the voice will all be screened and assessed. So better get ready.
Showcasting in the privacy of your home before the meeting helps prepare. Use a large mirror. Or call in a pair of friendly eyes and ears. Rehearse your introduction, work on its content. But equally, if not more, it is important to be aware of our non-verbal communication. UCLA research has shown that only 7% of communication is based on the actual words we say. As for the rest, 38% comes from tone of voice and the remaining 55% comes from body language. Our gestures, facial expression, eye contact, posture and tone of voice speak louder than words and suits. The trick with the body language is that you cannot fake it. The good news is that awareness about how you use your body to speak can be developed. In time, with practice and patience.
Of the many first team meetings I had as a project manager, here is a story, which shows how vulnerabilities and strengths may show at a first meeting with the team.
The team was there for 2,5 years already and they knew each other well enough. The portfolio manager wanted to introduce me to the project team even before I signed the contract. She was eager to give them the assurance that after three project managers in five months, things will take a stable course. It gives a clue about the environment I was about to start in.
So there I was, in my suit, with a smile and a soft lady-like handshake. My soft lady like handshake assured the men in the team that there is no “threat”. It created though a sense of competition among the female members. I was to learn about it in the coming weeks.
To present my credentials, the portfolio manager gave them the details of my past experience. Complementary, I highlighted experiences team members and I had in common. My years in consultancy, for instance. The way I kept my hands was read as a sign of confidence in my ability to steer the pluri-disciplinary project by some and as a predictor of a potentially more demanding reporting line by others. The latter made me work harder on my collaborative and persuasive skills.
A round table sitting allowed for a good eye contact. I could move my eyes around to make sure each and everyone feels included. With the exception of a couple of looking-down pairs of eyes. Which brings me to the other side of the first meeting: it is also an opportunity for you to watch and learn. The couple of looking-down eyes, for example, was a post-it for me for where more attention will need to be devoted.
Depending on the stage of the project, at the first meeting with the project team, you may need to get down to the planning business or agree on one-to-one follow-up meetings to learn more and then plan.
In sum, prepare and plan your first meeting for good first impressions to the extent you can. The number and quality of follow-up meetings may depend on it.