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Paul Gauci
About the author

Paul Gauci

Paul Gauci B.A. (Hons); M.Ed (Trg&Dvpt) Sheffield; MCIPD is Head of Bank of Valletta’s Training Centre and leads the Leadership and Change Module on the Henley MBA programme. He has a keen interest in leadership and people development.

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Great Impressions

“For me it’s always about first impressions. I trust my instincts. I love to prepare if it’s something that requires training. But I don’t like to prepare the psychology too much. I enjoy the psychology of the character but I work better from a first impression.” – Billy Zane

Our entire lives we leave impressions, sometimes good, sometimes great… sometimes not so good. For most of us, our goal is to leave a positive, lasting impression whether we are meeting a new business client or associate. Using common sense, sounding interesting, acting confident and outgoing can help to get you there. Indeed, we only have our first meeting to make a good first impression. We have each time thereafter to improve our impressions or to create a lasting impression. Leaving a great impression on the people you had interacted with is one of the best ways to brand yourself. Every action you make creates a little bit of impression that is crucial in branding yourself. Leaving a powerful impression is important because you will be able to create lots of contacts, opportunities and can give you a good kick-start on the road of relationship-building with others.

Here are some personal branding techniques – the way you market yourself to the world – of how you can leave a great and lasting impression:

1. Show-case your personality.

Personality is a crucial factor that can impress people. If you have a great personality, you will be able to attract people to you like a magnet. Being fun, outgoing, forgiving and smart is a good start. Try to exude confidence. If you aren’t feeling it, fake it until you believe it and then they will believe it too. It is important to find a balance between confidence and humility. Above all be genuine. Most of us like to talk about ourselves… what do we possibly know more about? When making a lasting positive impression, avoid talking about yourself. Let the others have the spotlight. Let them talk about themselves. Listen to what they are saying, be sincere in your responses and genuine in your questions.

2. Dress to impress, but don’t overdo it.

Believe it or not, over dressing can send a negative impression; lack of confidence, over confidence, or worse yet… arrogance. When meeting for a “business casual” meeting, dress business casual. When meeting for a formal business meeting, put on the extra shine. Ensure you look your best from head to toe. Dress to impress in order to look unique and express yourself. How you look is very important since people will judge you first by how you look. And do ensure a fine handshake. Handshake is one of the oldest and most effective way to greet someone. A handshake relies on eye and mouth coordination so have a cheerful smile and friendly eyes. A powerful and firm handshake will leave a great impression.

3. Timing and walking.

Leave with plenty of time to arrive a few minutes early. It’s possible to wait a few minutes if you arrive early, but it’s not possible to roll back the clock if you arrive late. Arriving even a minute or two late sends the message that the time of the person with whom you are meeting isn’t as important as your own. In addition, be respectful of the time you’re there. If you’ve asked for an hour, don’t take an hour and fifteen minutes. There’s nothing wrong with checking your watch while you’re in a meeting, just let them know your intention is to respect their time and not go over. How you walk can also leave a good or bad impression. Walking properly and confidently is a great way to show that you are successful (perception!) and full of confidence. Walking differently and uniquely can also leave a lasting impression.

4. Communicate with impact.

Talk confidently. Your voice and the way you talk can give a great impression of how smart you are. Talking confidently with a clear voice is a great way to show that you are successful and professional. Talking slow and low will give a bad impression of you being weak and feeble. Be aware of the other person’s body language and listen to what they have to say, you’ll easily know which side of the line you’re on. And listen. Demonstrate attentiveness with good eye contact and appropriate responses. Along the same vein, body language demonstrates your attentiveness and confidence (or lack thereof). Try not to slouch or fidget. Slouching sends a message of disinterest or lack of confidence. Fidgeting tells the other members that you are nervous, distracted, or worse… bored by what they are saying.

So much of a first positive impression is “common sense” but we so often forget our common sense at home when we leave for the day, preoccupied with what we need to get done, getting the sale or what we want out of the meeting that we forget there’s another person involved.

Now work at building rapport quickly and effectively…. Genie Z. Laborde in Influencing With Integrity, defines rapport as the “process of establishing and maintaining a relationship of mutual trust and understanding between two or more parties.” Rapport is when you feel that the other person really “knows” you. You see eye to eye, feel in synch and are tuned in to each other. In order to establish, build and deepen rapport people must believe that you understand their point of view, opinion or feelings without judging them

Take a moment and think for yourself, how do you know when you are in rapport with someone. What lets you know? Is it a feeling you have, something you hear or see? Have you ever met someone for the first time and it felt like you had known them for years? Or how do you know when someone has established rapport with you? What did they do in their behavior that enabled you to feel understood?

Rapport comes at all levels, there are some people whom you may trust and respect but you will not be lifelong friends. It is not necessary to make a deep connection with everyone. What is important is that you have gotten the message across to the other person that you can be trusted and are willing to understand them.

So here come another four techniques – taken from the art of NLP (Neuro Linguisting Progamming) that I know work well on establishing that great first impression and building rapport…..

1. Match posture.

One way to increase your level of rapport is to integrate mirroring into your behaviour. The basic premise behind mirroring is that if you can match back the person’s behavior, verbal expressions and or internal feelings then you will establish rapport. Mirroring is not mimicking. It is a close approximation to the original behavior, verbal expression and or internal feeling that has been identified. Some ways to practice mirroring is to match posture, breathing, keywords and gestures and/or voice quality. When you first meet someone matching posture is a natural way to establish rapport. It can occur in that first moment when each person is settling themselves into the interaction. In order to match, observe the person’s position and mirror-or closely approximate a similar position.

2. Match that pace of breath

Another way to establish, build and deepen rapport is to match a person’s breath. It is an undeniable fact that all people breathe. However how they breathe is different. For example the location of their breathing might be shallow, mid-range or deep. Their rate may be slow, medium or fast. Sometimes people will sigh or hold their breath. A way to observe the breath is to keep your eyes scanning from the shoulders down to the lower belly. If you sit next to the person it is also easier to see location and rate. Again this is a very subtle form of matching in order to establish rapport.

3. Playback keywords and gestures

Another mirroring technique is matching keywords and gestures. Of course you can separate these two and match them individually. However when identified as a combination there is significance within their message. Keywords are words that are marked out either by volume, tempo, tone, repetition, frequency or with a gesture. Gestures are isolated movements of the body. Common gestures are observed in the head, shoulders, hands and fingers. For example, nodding the head. Often people will emphasize a key feeling, thought or behavior with a gesture.

4. Summarising through ‘backtracking’

Backtracking is another excellent skill to learn in order to maintain and deepen rapport. When you are in conversation with another person whether it is business or personal take the opportunity to give back to the person the information you are receiving. This lets the person know that you were listening and that you understand without judgment. It also gives you a chance to ensure your own understanding and/or ask for clarification. If you were matching posture, breathing, key words and gestures, voice characteristics and did not attempt to backtrack your rapport would eventually slip through the cracks. The backtrack is the thread that tightens the rapport. Backtracking is saying back the essence, not verbatim, of what the person had just said. There are times when you backtrack and the other person adds on or corrects you. Being corrected can strengthen rapport because then you backtrack again and the person really feels you understand.

The key element within establishing, building, deepening and maintaining rapport is the ability to pay attention to the responses you are getting. The response will let you know if you are in or out of rapport. When you are “in” continue doing your mirroring and backtracking skills. When you are “out” utilise your flexibilty and change what you are doing until you are back on track.


Behind any technique there must be an authenticity of caring and real concern for the other person. Leaving a great first impression and building rapport is such a people oriented process yet I am describing practical techniques to establish, maintain and deepen rapport. It can and does feel mechanical! However after a while these become streamlined in your behavior. If you practice these skills and have no real interest in the other person the rapport will not develop. If you don’t pay attention to the other person it doesn’t matter how proficient you become in adopting the mentioned techniques. It is the responses that you get and your own flexibility that hold the ultimate power in establishing, maintaining and deepening rapport – leaving a lasting and powerful impression – the best way to brand yourself and build rapport with others.


Further reading:

The Brand called You – Peter Montaya

Effective Communication: The most important management skill of all – John Adair

Successful NLP for the results you want – Jeremy Lazarus

Influencing With Integrity – Genie Z. Laborde

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