Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
First impressions matter. While they only take tenths of a second to make, a first impression will change the entire trajectory of a business meeting — for better or for worse. Here are six important strategies for making a good first impression to always keep in mind as you go into an important business meeting.
Related: The Best Way to Run a Business Meeting
1. Look professional
Your appearance is the number one determinant of what kind of first impression you make. Wearing professional attire for a business meeting displays respect and revere towards those you are meeting with.
There are several keys when it comes to looking presentable. First and foremost: clothing choice. Men should focus on modest, well-tailored clothing while women can wear professional dresses, suits and other styles. Jewelry, fragrance, shoes and hygiene are just as crucial in the eyes of professionalism.
One particularly show-stopping piece for a man to wear to a business meeting is a luxury watch. While a high-end watch can cost a pretty penny, thankfully, companies like Luxury Watch Supply make these watches accessible without paying tens of thousands of dollars. Full disclosure, I recently won a Rolex GMT Master II through a watch competition run by Luxury Watch Supply. I paid around $1,200 to enter the competition, and I won the watch of my dreams — a watch that is sure to impress clients at future meetings.
2. Go prepared
Whether you’re meeting with a co-worker, supervisor or potential client, it is so imperative that you know your stuff. No matter how professionally you dress, going into a meeting unprepared will negatively impact the image you’ve created. On top of this, not “doing your homework” shows a level of disrespect towards those you are meeting with.
While entering a meeting, always be prepared with questions, explanations or information (depending on the meeting). Try to always take at least three questions into the meeting with you. If you are the meeting conductor, follow a set agenda to allow others to prepare their thoughts and ideas. If you are a participant, come with your talking points ready to actively engage.
Related: How to Dress for a Business Meeting. Yes, Seriously.
3. Be punctual
Punctuality in the workplace is a great way to build your reputation and credibility among your peers. Not only does this apply to meetings, but also deadlines and important projects.
For the sake of the meeting, punctuality not only makes a great first impression, it also allows the meeting agenda to be completed within its set time frame. While accidents occasionally happen beyond your control, you should always make it a habit to expect the unexpected and allow yourself time.
In the new digital age, you must anticipate some technological setbacks that you may encounter as a meeting’s start time draws near. Before an e-meeting, get set up on your virtual meeting platform and troubleshoot any issues you might have so that you can put any potential issues to bed before they become a problem.
4. Engage and be engaging
A common mistake people make during meetings is trying to make a good impression by impressing others with their vast knowledge. Making a genuine and lasting impression is not to “wow” others, but rather to emphasize and create a memorable, engaging conversation. To do this, appeal to your audience by actively listening to what the others have to say and by thoughtfully contributing.
Ultimately, the more receptive you are to others, the more receptive they will be back to you. When you focus on having an engaging, interesting conversation, more natural camaraderie will develop around the meeting, making it memorable and fruitful.
Related: 5 Ways Pointless Business Meetings Hurt Your Bottom Line
5. Don’t be afraid to say “no”
We are all left under the impression that saying “no” is a bad thing, especially in business. When it comes to a business meeting, that’s far from the case.
In fact, one of the easiest ways to earn the respect of those you are meeting with is to be honest and say “no.” Particularly, if you’re meeting with somebody who could be a potential client, there’s a lot to be gained from saying the following: “Actually, I’m probably not the best choice to do that for you, but I know somebody who might be.”
Being transparent, honest and helpful shows what kind of person you are and shows that you have other people’s best interests at heart. Sometimes, as uncomfortable as it might seem, this comes in the form of saying “no.”
6. Bonus: End with an action plan
You’ve made a great first impression. Now, how should you end a business meeting?
To leave others from your meeting with a long-lasting, positive impression, you should always leave a meeting with an action plan toward the next steps. Sometimes, this can be as simple as a follow-up email to recap the conversation and re-outline questions that came up during the meetings. Other times, it might be a much more concrete list of what needs to be done.
This applies to meeting participants just as much as those conducting. Even if you are not the one leading the meeting, make sure you leave with takeaways and a direct course of action so you don’t drop the ball on any tasks that came your way.
If you’re the one conducting the meeting, it’s also good practice to send follow-ups later in the week. When doing so, highlight the outstanding to-dos, and check in on the progress of those around you. If you have the capacity or ability, offer to assist.
No matter who you’re meeting with, following this simple list of pointers will help ensure the meeting is a resounding success. If you are professional, prepared and responsive, a successful meeting should be the expectation.