Networking for Referrals: Making a Good First Impression
How good are you at making business connections? Learn how to make a strong first impression when working the crowd so that you can start building a successful referral business of your peers.
December 13, 2011
It’s much easier to form a good first impression than to recover from a bad one, says Michelle Tillis Lederman, author of The 11 Laws of Likability (AMACOM, 2012). From that first handshake and introduction, you’re forming an opinion of that person and they’re forming an opinion about you too. Everything from spoken words to posture and facial expressions contribute to that first impression.
“We are judgmental people. Our instinct is to make decisions and assumptions about other people in a minute-and-a-half or so of meeting them, maybe before you shake hands or even say ‘hello,’ ” says Lederman, founder and CEO of Executive Essentials. “It’s hard not to make a first impression.”
For real estate professionals, making a good first impression isn’t important just for building customer relationships but also for building relationships among your peers — which can bring referrals to your business and earn you some extra cash. Whether networking at industry events, conferences, or around your community, you want to make sure you’re making a lasting, memorable impression so that it’s your name others will pass along to customers. Those first 90 seconds when meeting someone new can be critical in establishing likability, Lederman says.
She offers some of the following tips on how to make a good first impression while “relationship networking”:
1. Watch what your body language says.
Your body language can send a lot of signals to whom you’re speaking — it can reveal your disinterest or show attentiveness and confidence, Lederman says. Here are some important things to remember in your body language while networking:
• Smiling: “It’s the most important thing you can do in a conversation,” Lederman says. A smile can communicate openness, approachability, and trustworthiness, and it can be warm and comforting. “A smile is the No. 1 way to reduce misinterpretation and judgment in the wrong direction on a first impression,” Lederman says.
• Eye contact: Consistent eye contact can make the other person feel understood, respected, and heard. But don’t stare, which can make others feel uncomfortable. Between extended periods of eye contact, take breaks of two to five seconds.
• Nodding: Women and men tend to use “the nod” differently in conversations: Men tend to nod when they agree with something while women tend to nod to show they’re listening, research shows. Using a nod to show both agreement and attentiveness can be effective.
• Stand tall: Rolling your shoulders down can make your body appear smaller and send the message you’re closed off or lack confidence. Posture is important — broaden your shoulders and pick them up to open up your body frame and exude more confidence.
• Tone: Your voice tone also contributes to your first impression. If you’re not naturally peppy, then don’t be — you’ll come off as insincere. Have a confident voice. Avoid mumbling, using too many “um's" and “ah's", or raising your voice at the end of your sentence like if you were asking a question.
Start the conversation by being curious about the other person — what do you really want to know about her? Where is he from? How long has she been working in real estate? Is there any professional advice you would like to ask her? People love doling out advice, it makes them feel valued.
Keep your questions open-ended — beginning with “what,” “how,” “how come,” and “why,” Lederman suggests. For example, the question “What brings you here?” will encourage people to open up more than asking a yes or no question such as “Did your company send you?” Just be careful not to bombard people with question after question or they may feel guarded, Lederman warns.
“Showing genuine curiosity about a person’s job, life, interests, opinions, or needs is a great way to start a conversation, keep it going, and create connections,” Lederman says. But the conversation doesn’t always have to be work-related. Ask about hobbies, sports, interests, or vacations. “Be able to shift from professional topics to talking about anything,” Lederman says. “It’s over the more personal things that people bond.”
3. Listen closely.
So you’ve demonstrated curiosity — now listen carefully. There are three main levels of listening; a combination of the three can be effective in networking, Lederman says.
• Inward listening: Find a way to relate the information the person is telling you to your own life and experiences. This is how most people tend to listen, and it can be effective because you’re relating to other person. That said, be careful you don’t take advantage and make the conversation all about you.
• Outward listening: Listen in a way to understand more, with probing follow-up statements like “tell me more about that” or “how come?”
• Intuitive listening: Focus not just on what the person is saying but also the person’s body language (facial expressions, tone, and so on) and general “vibe.” With this form of listening, you’re going a step further by interpreting what you’re hearing. But watch out: “It could seem off-putting to people you just met to feel like they are being ‘read,’” Lederman says. “Be thoughtful with your tone of voice to make it clear that you are proposing and not assuming.”
4. ‘You too? Me too!’
People like people like them. Finding similarities and areas of common ground will go far in establishing instant rapport. Discover similarities in your professional experiences, people you know, beliefs, education, or work histories. “When we discover similarities, we form deeper and more lasting connections,” Lederman says. “You build a foundation of trust. If we have someone in common or a common interest, that makes me like you a little more and want to chat more.”
5. Authenticity rules.
Let’s say you’re looking for more connections to grow your referral business. If that’s your chief motivator when making initial contacts, then you’re doomed to fail — people can read insincerity. Passing out your business card before a relationship is even formed and coming across as self-serving in your interactions is going to do more harm than good.
“Make a shift from ‘It’s all about me’ to ‘It’s all about the relationship,’” Lederman says. “You need to network for a relationship, not just for now or to fulfill a need.”
Make the First Impression Count
So maybe you’ve survived the first 90 seconds and beyond of the conversation by sending off positive body language, being genuine and curious, listening, and finding common ground — but you’ll want to keep the relationship going beyond that first meeting. The key to follow-up is giving, Lederman says.
“One of the strongest ways to increase likability and foster a connection is to demonstrate that we understand someone else’s needs and are happy to help fulfill them,” Lederman says. “Extending a helping hand is one of the best ways to follow up, and it also opens the door for continued contact going forward.”
“Giving” could include extending an invitation to a future event, introducing that person to others, or providing resources such as links to information that the person might find engaging (just be careful that it won’t be viewed as spam), Lederman says.
“You can still stay in their mind without getting in their face,” Lederman says. “Look for genuine reasons to reach out to someone. Whatever you talked about, try to think of a quick follow-up to start building the relationship.”