The First Impression: Expect the Unexpected

Isn’t it amazing that the meeting we have the most often is the one that we are least prepared for? We dress up in our best and spend hours preaching to the couch in hopes of nailing that “really big” meeting. But when it comes down to that little meeting of the first impression, we often find ourselves caught totally unprepared, wishing we just had another shot. It is if we are surprised by the fact that life puts us in contact with a throng of strangers every day. This is no Murphy’s Law chance-happening; this is us simply not being prepared.

My grandfather Rabbi Abraham Fogel, of blessed memory, used to say that the letters comprising the Hebrew word for congratulations, mazal tov, stand for three things: place, time, and study. The first two are out of our hands, but the third, study, is our ability to make the best of the situations that life present us.

About five years ago I was speaking to a good friend who was a passionate and successful fundraiser. She lived in Israel but spent huge amounts of time flying to and from the United States on various fundraising trips. Her frequent travels earned her upgrades to first or business class every now and then. During the conversation, she said something I will never forget, “I never let an upgrade go to waste.” Surrounded by wealthy passengers, she took advantage of her situation to always make a new connection.

Or, perhaps, said a little differently from the other end of the spectrum. Rahm Emanuel, White House Chief of Staff to President Obama, was quoted in the NY Times as saying “Rule one: Never allow a crisis to go to waste. They are opportunities to do big things.”

And how true it is. The next person we share an elevator with, bump into, cut-off, or spill coffee on could be the connection/donor that we’ve been waiting for our whole lives.

I was thinking of this idea when reading an article recently posted on eJewish Philanthropy written by Stephen Donshik entitled “Whose Responsibility is Fundraising Anyway?” In the article he details how important first impressions are. From the receptionist to the program coordinators to the CEO, one can never underestimate an initial impression. The first sound a potential donor hears on the other end of the telephone could, literally, make or break the deal. And more than just making sure that the employees answering the phones are polite and helpful, never make the caller “work” to give a donation.

These two attributes alone, being polite and helpful, have netted me bids to set me up (alas, I was already married by then), home-baked cookies, and even a few job offers — all from total strangers. I kid you not about the cookies.

But these principles are not enough.

I remember interviewing for a position at a large nonprofit organization about four years ago. Part of the interview process required me to prepare a two minute presentation on program material that I had been given. They explained to me that two minutes is approximately the time one has to describe what they do when meeting someone for the first time. The goal being, of course, that these two minutes can interest someone enough to take the next step.

First impressions are all around, like gravity, happening whether you want them to or not. So why not have them work for you instead of against?

On a similar note, how much thought have you put into describing what you do for a living? It is not a coincidence that a business card is a relatively small piece of paper. Can you succinctly define what you do and what your title is? If you can’t, you better figure it out because people’s attention span is a short and fragile thing.

And, of course, the best way to be prepared for the first impression is to prepare. a number of years back listed the surefire ways “How to Deliver a Bad Presentation.”  It wasn’t a surprise to see the number one spot occupied by “skipping the practice sessions.”

The hundreds of pages of Dale Carnegie books out there tell us that there is a lot more to say about making the right first impression. However, I believe that (1) recognizing the tremendous opportunties in our everyday lives (2) being polite and helpful and (3) being prepared, are the main ingredients needed to transform our most frequent type of meeting into our most fruitful.

Tizku LeMitzvot [May you continue to merit doing good deeds],


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1 comment for “The First Impression: Expect the Unexpected

  1. Ruth (glencore)
    August 5, 2009 at 8:00 am

    Brilliant blog site! Very well done. Shall follow it faithfully!


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