Do you remember the best thing you ever got in your Halloween loot? It was probably a King Size Milky Way from the bulk pack your awesome neighbor picked up as Costco. Every trick-or-treater dreams of the night when they dump their bag of sugary goodies over their bedroom floor to find that Holy Grail of confectionary perfection. They’ll remember that night for years to come—and from that Halloween onward, they’ll always try to return to that house, that fabled place of candy glory.
But, just as they remember the awesome treats, they also remember the toothbrush. The floss. The apple. The raisins. Kids have certain expectations and when those expectations aren’t met (or exceeded!) there’s going to be utter disgust and disappointment. Who wants to go to the house that gives out toothbrushes? The answer is no one. If I wanted a free toothbrush, I’d go to the dentist.
Trick-or-treating on Halloween night has quite a bit in common with making first impressions and networking in the business world. We make first impressions all the time, even when we don’t realize it. A successful first impression can lead to positive results: a new job, a new business opportunity, a new partnership, or an exchange of ideas. Conversely, a bad first impression can mean no business gain, or possible even business lost. I went out on Halloween as a triceratops once. Jurassic Park had come out that summer and everyone still had dinosaurs on the brain. People were impressed. They liked seeing an awesome triceratops at their door. Because I made such a great impression, I got more candy.
Making a good first impression can ultimately come down to your appearance and demeanor. When you put effort into your appearance, the people you meet are going to remember that. They might not remember precisely what you were wearing, but they’ll know you were one sharp triceratops. Somewhere along the line, you were told to never judge a book by its cover. It’s solid advice, but it’s advice rarely followed. It’s simply our nature to judge on appearance and with so many of us being visual creatures, it’s incredibly difficult not to. We’re all guilty of judging books by their covers. We judge movie posters. We judge the tiny pictures of hamburgers on the fast food menu. We judge people by their appearance. It’s not all negative, but these judgments often lead to false assumptions.
Of course, what you’re wearing won’t mean much if you don’t have the demeanor to go with it. I’m talking about body language and confidence. When we’re wearing our costumes, our masks, those once-a-year façades, it’s much easier to exude confidence. The so-called “real” you is hidden behind the costume helping to remove a psychological barrier. It’s a barrier that’s different for a lot of people, but we seem to recognize, even if it’s on a subconscious level, that social expectations are different. When we wear masks, we feel protected. Others can’t see us blush, sweat, avert our eyes, or give away that we’re not as confident as we want to be.
When you’re making a first impression, you might feel nervous or intimidated, especially when the person you want to impress has influence and may impact future business. Sure, it’s not as simple as putting on a mask and going up to some stranger’s door with the expectation of candy, but it’s strikingly similar. Where does that sudden burst of confidence come from on Halloween? The façade? Think of making that first impression like walking up to a stranger’s door. You know you want that candy. All you have to do is knock.
Remember, first impressions aren’t all about you. Yes, you want to get across that you’re worth knowing and can offer something of value, but sometimes it comes down to being willing to listen and engaging the other person. You want to convey respect of the person you want to impress. This isn’t a charity and they’re not here to do you any favors. Just like the people with the candy. When you visit these stranger’s homes, it’s an open invitation. Disrespect can lead to—guess what? No candy! If you aren’t willing to listen or engage the other person, they’re going to reciprocate and just like Necco Wafers, you’ll end up leaving a bad taste in their mouth.
One great way to show respect is with a compliment. When you throw out a compliment, you’re already off to a great start. You might compliment them on a recent article they wrote, or congratulate them on a recent success, or just on their business in general. Not only does it make them feel good and lend to a good first impression on your part, but it shows you actually know a little about them. Enthusiasm goes a long way, too. When you can relate your interests, and show genuine (but tempered) excitement, it not only boosts your confidence, but it makes that first conversation go as smooth as buttery caramel.
Another excellent way to show respect and make a connection—if not the most important way—is to say their name. When you’re trying to make a first impression and leave with contact information, repeating their name will give you a serious advantage. Saying their name lets the other person know you’re engaged with them and in the conversation. They love to hear it and it makes them feel like the center of attention. It’s just like on Halloween. People love it when you correctly acknowledge that they’re Princess Buttercup and not Princess Vespa, or Robocop and not Judge Dredd.
So, when you knock on that stranger’s door and call out “trick or treat” with the confidence of Thor with Mjolnir in hand, you’ll get the candy you came for, just like when you approach someone you want to connect with on a professional level. You’ll leave a good impression and make that critical connection.