The First Seven Seconds and Beyond: How to Get Five Qualified Sales Leads at Every Networking Event

Have you ever met someone and instantly said to yourself, "I don't know why, but I really like that person." Or maybe you've said, "There's something about that guy that bugs me. I can't quite put my finger on it."

You have just formed an impression of the other person. And most of our first impressions are unconscious -- we don't even know we're making them; we only know that we have an overall, general feeling about this person. In networking, to increase the changes of getting a sale from someone you chat with depends largely upon the first seven seconds. That’s when first impressions are formed. Beyond that, you then have to solidify that positive first impression.

Let’s talk first about how to make a good first impression in seven seconds.

Eight Unconscious Impressions That People Form within Seven Seconds of Meeting You

According to research conducted by my company over the past two years, people instantly form eight impressions of you within the first seven seconds of meeting you. Those eight unconscious impressions are:

1. How much money you make

2. How much education you've had

3. How trustworthy you are

4. What your personality style is and how agreeable you are

5. How confident you are

6. How intelligent you are

7. What your work ethic is

8. How dependable and accountable you are

Wait a minute! How can someone make all these decisions about me in the first seven seconds? Good question. A little over half of these impressions are based on your body language. Thirty-eight percent are based on your tone of voice. And only seven percent of these impressions are based on the actual words you say. Those statistics are according to the famous communications study by UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian in 1971.

Most people worry about what they’ll say when they first meet someone. It seems strange that we seem to worry most about the thing that has the least impact on making a good first impression. It’s not what we say with our mouths, but what we say with our bodies that creates a first impression. Our words solidify and confirm a first impression, but they don’t make it.

The First Seven Seconds: Non-Verbal Impressions

Here are some tips to make a good non-verbal impression in the first seven seconds.

1. The Walk

· Stand upright, and hold your head up. This indicates that you are a confident, self-assured person.

· Don't put your hands in your pockets or hold them behind your back. Why? Because if your hands aren't showing it sends a subliminal message that you can't be trusted -- that you have something to hide.

· Walk with purpose and enthusiasm. This shows your vigor and confidence. Nobody likes to see someone trudging up to them, head down, eyes averted. You feel like saying, "Jeez, pal, don't strain yourself. Sorry it's such a bother to have to come and talk with me!"

2. The Tune-In Factor

· Make eye contact and hold it for at least four seconds. If you don't hold the eye contact, you appear to have "shifty eyes" and therefore appear non-trustworthy.

· Smile. But don't have a smile on your face as you walk up to the person. There's nothing phonier. As you start to shake the person's hand and look into his or her face, let a smile slowly creep across your face. It's as if you are saying to the other person, "Oh, I've had a moment to look at you and I approve. I like you." If you walk up to someone with a bright cheery smile already on your face, the other person feels as if you want something. In fact, you very well may want something. But you'll have a far better chance of getting it if you use the "slow creeping smile" technique. (Please note: It's a slow creeping smile, not a slow creepy smile!)

· Show enthusiasm while greeting the other person. We all like upbeat people. But there is a caveat here: you should appear enthusiastic, not overmedicated. Don't you just hate people who come up to you with the energy level turned up a little too high? What's your first impression of these folks? Probably either that they're phony, or that they've had about a one pot too many of coffee.

3. Grooming

· Be impeccably groomed.

· Accessorize carefully. Accessories say a lot about a person. Think for a moment about a person that you know who has one of those watches with all kinds of gizmos on it, the kind that could probably give you the temperature on Mars. Is this person fairly analytical and detail-oriented? I'll bet he (or she) is! Similarly, what do you think about a woman who wears a sleek watch and minimal jewelry, as opposed to a woman who wears a ton of gaudy costume jewelry? You probably perceive the woman with the understated accessories to be more self-confident, more intelligent, and better educated.

4. Tone

· Maintain a pleasant and non-threatening yet upbeat tone.

· Your tone should say, "Hello! I'm interested in learning something about you or your company." We'll talk later in this article about the actual words to say during an introduction at a networking event. But for now, just remember to watch your tone. Over a third of your first impression is based on it!

5. The Handshake: Six Tips for a Good Handshake

1. Wait until the introduction is finished before extending your hand.

2. Deliver the handshake with a smile and eye contact.

3. Make it firm but not bone-crunching.

4. Start and stop crisply: no longer than three seconds, no more than three pumps.

5. Avoid wearing large rings. They can cause you to wince during a firm handshake, and the other person may interpret that to mean you are winching at having to shake hand with them!

6. Don't shake with a clammy hand. (Give it a quick, inconspicuous wipe first.)

The First Seven Seconds: Verbal Impressions

While all of the tips and techniques you'll learn in this lesson are important, this section has perhaps the highest value. Master these two techniques and you'll be well on your way to masterful communications and helping to solidify that good first impression you made with your body language and non-verbal communication.

1. Keep a YOU Focus

We all like to talk about ourselves. And we all like it when people are interested in us! Remember to keep the focus on the other person during most of the conversation. Here are some tips to do that:

· LISTEN! No, I mean really listen to what the other person is saying. By paying close attention to the words that the other person uses, you will be able to pick up on topics that are important to them. For example, if you are talking about the weather, and the other person mentions, "Yeah, this rain is great for my garden," you may want to ask about the garden. It is obviously important enough to the other person to bring it up. Suppose someone says, "Well, since it's supposed to rain this weekend anyway, it'll be a good time to get all those interior projects done." Notice the choice of words: interior projects. He didn't say cleaning. He didn't say bookwork. He said projects. That implies it's more than routine chores. It's a good clue for you to ask, "Oh? What kind of projects? Are you doing some remodeling? Some painting?" You get the idea. So often I hear people completely miss opportunities to follow up on key words in conversations.

· Reflect. Reflect back to the person the words he or she uses. If someone says, "I'm going sailing on my yacht this weekend," don't ask, "Oh, so how long have you had your boat?" Thud. Conversation over. You have just insulted this person. She chose the word yacht for a reason. The same goes if someone says to you, "Yeah, I try to work out at least four times a week. Sometimes, though, I find it hard to get to the gym." It wouldn't be wise to say, "I know what you mean; I seem to never be able to get to my club." Well, la-dee-dah, Mr. High and Mighty! There are all kinds of examples of this: job vs. career, gig vs. booking, contract vs. deal, deal vs. agreement, meeting vs. session. Listen well and reflect. In my book, Instant Appeal, the 8 Primal Factors that Create Blockbuster Success, (available for pre-order now on and [shameless self-promotion]), I talk about something called “kinship relevancy.” It’s one of 200 human universals –qualities that all neurologically normal humans have in common. One of those kinship relevancy universals is people instantly trust other people who use the same words to describe things. Anthropologists tell us that’s because when someone else uses the same words that we do, we perceive them to be part of our tribe – even if only unconsciously. At that point, our primal instinct to protect and bond with our kin kicks and, and we will spend more time chatting it up wit the other person. When you hear someone say, "She and I just seemed to click," it was probably that the two parties were using the same or very similar language.

· Avoid Roving Eyes. When talking with someone at a networking event, avoid looking around the room. It gives the impression that you're looking for someone else to talk to and that you're bored with your current partner

· Avoid the "me too" syndrome. We've all had this happen to us. I hate to admit it, but the "me too" syndrome happens often among women. I'll never forget the time I was on the phone to one of my girlfriends, pouring my heart out to her over a boyfriend who had just broken up with me. I had just barely gotten into my story when she blurted, "Oh, honey! I know just what you mean. But that's nothing compared to what happened to me. Do you know what my last boyfriend did to me? Well, he. . ." She hadn't even heard me. I didn't need a boyfriend-bashing session; I needed empathy. A simple, " You seem really hurt. Tell me more," would have sufficed. Instead, she jumped right into her "me too" story. The same applies in a business situation. If someone is telling you about how she enjoyed his last business trip to Tokyo, don't jump in and say, "Oh, I was in Tokyo back in March. And you're right, it's a wonderful place!" You've just taken the focus off the other person and put it onto you, and that's a put-off. Save your Tokyo stories for much later in the conversation -- after you've heard all about his trip.

2. Strategic Questioning

Not Twenty Questions, but strategic questioning! What is strategic questioning? It's asking about asking questions of the other person in a way that doesn't him feel as if you are interrogating him.

How do you know what questions to ask? It depends on the situation. In small talk (which the first two minutes of meeting someone usually are), your questions should be relevant to the function you're attending, or follow up on something the other person mentioned. (Note the earlier example of the person who mentioned he had some interior projects to work on. You may ask what they are, how long they’ve been working on that, and so forth.)

If the conversation has moved from small talk to “big talk” -- or business issues -- then there is a specific method to use, but that’s fodder for a later article.

3. Introductions

Introducing Yourself

· Give your name, first and last.

· Tell what you do, not what your title is. Giving your title comes across as pretentious.

· Give a nugget of information, but keep it brief.

Examples: "I'm Joe Johnson from First National Bank. I work in acquisitions."

"I'm Susan Simpson and I work in corporate law."

Introducing Your Associates

· Say, "May I introduce to you. . . "

· Do NOT say, "May I introduce you to. . . " It makes it seem as if your associate is more important than the person you're trying to network with.

· If you are introducing more than one of your associates, introduce the person of greatest importance or seniority first.

· If the associates you're introducing are of the same rank or title, introduce by age or seniority with the company.

· Give the name of the person you are introducing, along with what they do and a nugget of information.

Example: "I would like to introduce to you David Jones, who works in marketing. David is in charge of the Sony account."

· Don't rush. Speak slowly. Take the time to look first at the person you are networking with, then to the person you are introducing.

How to Respond to an Introduction

· Simply say, "How do you do?" followed by the person's name.

· Make eye contact.

· Use the "Slow Smile" technique.

· Make a brief statement about the person or their company. If you don't know anything about the person or the company, ask a relevant question that can be answered quickly.

Examples: "I've heard that your company is growing rapidly."

"Congratulations on your promotion."

"Are you enjoying the event?"

The Networking Event: What NOT to do!

We don't try to do it. But we do. We completely muck up a first meeting. Here are seven things many people do that can sabotage a first impression:

1. Using Sloppy or Lazy Language

Avoid using words and phrases like "anyways," "you guys," "okey dokey," "alrighty then," "whole 'nother thing," and the like. If you use these phrases, you come across as less intelligent. You also send a message that you don't care enough about the conversation or the interaction to use grammatically correct language.

2. Hiding Your Hands

We talked about this earlier. Having your hands in your pockets or behind your back sends a message that you can't be trusted.

3. Being Late for a Meeting

Once again, you've sent the message that you don't care -- and that you're not a dependable person. It also may be perceived as an attempt to show your authority or as indicative of a low work ethic.

4. Being Too Early

If you arrive more than ten to fifteen minutes early for a meeting, you're breaching the other person's privacy and therefore are not an agreeable person. Being too early also makes you come off as too eager and lacking in confidence.

5. Throat Clearing

When you clear your throat, people think you're either trying to stall, interrupt, or establish your importance. Anyone who is perceived this way will also be perceived as a less-than-agreeable person to do business with. If you must clear your throat, excuse yourself and do so elsewhere.

6. Lack of Enthusiasm

If you're not energetic, people will either think you have no confidence, don't care, or are arrogant. Regardless of which impression they form, you lose.

7. Answering the Cell Phone

In networking, this is the equivalent of call waiting. Have you ever been on the phone with a friend or relative who has call waiting and puts you on hold by saying, "Oh, I have another call?" Well, when you answer a cell phone during a networking or business meeting, you're sending the same message: "This other person, even though I don't know who they are yet, is more important than you." Cell phones should be off during networking and business meetings. When you answer a call during a business meeting, you are telling the other person, "Look how important I am." Unfortunately the other person is thinking, "Look how full of himself he is!" If you really are expecting an important call, then call in to your office between networking conversations. The only possible exception I can think of to this is a doctor, who may receive truly life-and-death emergency calls from patients. Even so, doctors usually carry pagers, which are less rude than cell phones. At least with pagers, you have an opportunity to finish your conversation before excusing yourself to make a call.

One final, yet critical point about business networking events: don’t try to talk to everyone! As a general rule, you should target five quality prospects to chat with at the event, and aim for one quality follow up lead per hour. For example, if the networking event runs from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. -- and you plan to be there for the entire time -- a good goal to set would be to get about four quality leads to follow up with. The time you invest on the front end at the networking event will pay off on the back end – when you follow up. Too often, business professionals try to "paper the room" with their business cards. Remember, the purpose of networking is to establish rapport – not to sell. The selling part comes in the follow up. Only spending quality time with a potential prospect will you have the requisite rapport to make a sale.

But how do you find those five people to talk to? The first step involves knowing who you want to target. Make a list of the qualities or criteria that your best prospects would have. Here are some questions that may help you get started developing your list:

· What size company is most likely to need our products or services?

· What type of person do I need to speak with? The CEO? The marketing person? A department manager? A lawyer? A technical expert? A financial person?

· What industries are most likely to need our products or services?

· What geographic location should the company be located in?

Once you have developed your list, you can identify people at the networking event who fit your criteria. Don’t waste your time chit-chatting with people who don’t fit your criteria.

By being focused and efficient at a networking event, and by making sure your communication is “primordially correct,” you’ll talk to fewer people, but end up with better leads.


Vicki Kunkel is an award-winning social anthropologist who has been recognized as an expert in persuasive communication by many media outlets. She’s been interviewed by MSNBC, CNN, Entprerpeneur Magazine, and myriad local radio and television stations across the U.S and Canada. During the O. J. Simpson trial, she was a regular guest expert on AP Network News, commenting on the subliminal body language messages sent by all the players in that trial, as well as which trial strategies would be mo...

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