Interacting with other humans is an activity we engage in on a daily basis and often requires little cognitive thought when we're engaging with friends, colleagues and family members.
However, a large part of startup life involves interacting with people you don't know, and in many cases asking them to buy something from you. This requires many additional skills, and lots of practice to be able to repeatedly execute successful interactions with strangers.
As the old saying goes, you only get one shot at making a good first impression and there are some steps you can take to ensure your first interaction is a successful one.
When meeting someone for the first time, you should have a clear objective of what you want to get out of the meeting – an introduction, piece of advice, feedback or a sale. Then it's all about developing rapport quickly, building trust and getting the person to like you. I've compiled a few tips that I've learnt along the way to ensure your first interaction gets off to a great start and you're remembered for the right reasons.
1. Learn How to Pronounce the Person's Name
This isn't always an issue, but in some instances, particularly when travelling abroad you may encounter some unfamiliar names. Addressing someone by the wrong name is the worst thing you can do and not being able to pronounce it isn't much better.
If you've set the meeting up via email, then a quick Google search of "How to pronounce persons name" will provide a useful hint. If you're still struggling, then search YouTube and you'll find audio examples of how to pronounce the name. Practice saying it a few times and you'll make a great first impression. For those people who are used to hearing others struggle to pronounce their name, they'll be flattered when you get it right.
2. Come Prepared
If you're giving a demo of your product or service, then ensure you have the demo prepared in advance of any meeting. It's also highly recommended to have a backup solution incase you encounter Wi-fi issues. I always keep key screens pre-loaded and open in separate browser tabs so I'm never dependant on an internet connection.
It's also a nice touch if you can customise your demo to the potential customer to show them how it would be used to solve their problem. When I'm presenting Get Invited, I'll spend a few minutes setting up a quick mock event with the customers logo and some basic information and it always goes down well.
It shouldn't take long to prepare and there is nothing worse than watching someone fumbling around trying to deliver a product demo on the fly.
3. Arrive Early
There really is no excuse for being late. You can't make a great impression on someone if the message you're sending to them is that you don't value their time.
If you're travelling with the possibility of delays, then plan to arrive early to compensate. You can always get a bit of work done in a nearby coffee shop if you happen to arrive early. In fact, I find it's much better to always arrive slightly early – that way I have a few minutes to relax and compose myself before a meeting.
If, in the extremely unfortunate circumstance you're going to be late – let the person you're meeting know well in advance, there is nothing more frustrating than arriving for a meeting and receiving a message afterwards from someone saying they're going to be late.
4. Know Key Facts About the Person
You should aim to find out 2-3 key points about the person you're meeting in advance. This will make opening a meaningful conversation a breeze. You should at least know what the person does, what company they work for and perhaps their previous jobs – if you can find out an interest of theirs then you'll really be able to impress them. People feel flattered when other people know some facts about them. Even if it's obvious you've just looked at their online profile, it still shows you've made an effort.
Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are great resources for finding out useful pieces of information and it only takes a few moments.
5. Remember the Person's Name
There is no word more important to a person than their own name, so remembering someone's name is one of the most important things you need to do in a meeting, yet it's probably the hardest skill to master, especially if you meet a lot of new people on a regular basis. If you've ever been at a networking event you'll know how difficult it can be to remember a number of individual names of people that you've just met for the first time.
Once they tell you their name, repeat it in your head a few times and periodically refer to them by their name throughout the conversation without over doing it. This will help you remember and they will be delighted every time they hear you saying their name.
6. Follow Up
As the meeting draws to a close, present the person with a call to action in relation to your objective, this might be to sign up for a trial of your product, make an introduction, or send you some information.
Leave your card and ensure you don't leave the meeting without the person's contact details if you don't already have them, then always, always follow up.
Send a follow up email, thank the person for taking the time to meet you and then remind them of the call to action. If it's a business meeting, add them to LinkedIn and remember to include a short, personalised message in your invitation.
Encourage the other person to do most of the talking and become genuinely interested in listening to what they have to say. Even if you're selling a product or service, you should spend most of the time listening to them explaining their problem. Then you can deliver a short demonstration of your product, tailored specifically for them, explaining how you're going to solve their specific needs. This is much more effective than a pre-rehearsed, generic and impersonal sales pitch.
8. Dress Appropriately
If you're meeting your bank manager or a corporate executive from a large company, then rocking up to the meeting in a pair of jeans and trainers probably won't do you any favours. Equally, if you're meeting with the hottest new tech startup in town, a suit and tie will make you look over dressed, corporate and uncool.
Understand the person you're meeting and dress appropriately, you'll develop rapport much more easily. Business casual (shirt, jeans, proper shoes and a sports jacket) is a good, versatile option for many meeting situations.
9. Pay for Coffee
If the person is doing you a favour; perhaps their making an introduction or giving up some of their time to give you advice, then reciprocate and offer to pay for coffee or food. It's a small gesture to demonstrate that you value their time and input.
If you want the person to buy your product or service, then buying them something puts them into an indebted psychological state and they will experience a desire to reciprocate, increasing your chances that they will buy from you.
10. Offer a Firm Handshake
Nothing is more off putting than a limp or 'wet' handshake – offer the person a firm handshake, otherwise you will appear insincere and instantly give the impression you'd rather be anywhere than in the other person's presence.
Much of the above will sound like common sense, but it takes a lot of practice to master human interactions in a professional setting. For more tips, be sure to read Dale Carnegie's – How to Win Friends and Influence People