Why Many Smart People Fail to Make a Good First Impression

You would have observed this in your own life. You are meeting someone for the first time. You have heard from your friends that the person you are going to meet is very smart. You Googled this person and learned a bit more. You go to the meeting with high expectations. The meeting is great but by the end of the meeting, your viewpoint about the person has changed a bit. You expected a lot from the person but for whatever reason, that expectation was not met.

On the other hand, if you were that smart person that the other person was waiting to meet, you may have wondered what best to do to leave a lasting impression. In other words, how do you live up to or better yet, exceed the expectation of the other person?

Let us dive deep into this topic.

In this day and age, what precedes the first impression is the zeroth impression. It is what a person thinks of you even before you make your first impression. Google and other resources will make it easy for anyone to form a zeroth impression about anyone else. So the zeroth impression sets the baseline of expectations from the other person. If the zeroth impression about you is that you are a “rockstar”, the baseline set will be that of a “rockstar”. If the zeroth impression about you is that of a newbie, the baseline set will be that of a newbie. It is not right or wrong, but people will come to meet you with a certain baseline.

If all else fails, the baseline that is set will be based on some stereotypes in the mind of the other person. For example: If you are an Indian and if the other person thinks all Indians are geeks, he will come with a baseline that he has for all geeks.

That’s about the baselines.

Let’s take the two approaches – one that does not help you make a good first impression (Approach A) and the one that helps you create memorable moments (Approach B)

Approach A: Failing to Make a Good First Impression


You start the meeting with a high with your best foot forward. Your intro is stellar and sets the bar even higher than the baseline. In the first half of the conversation, you cover most of your high points. The other person is impressed. Half way through the meeting, you run out of things to connect and the conversation moves to a point where you start treading below the baseline. By the time the conversation ends, you are far below the baseline.

Meanwhile as you are seriously focused about your image during the conversation, you get to touch on topics that the other person deeply cares about once or twice (notice ONE star in the timeline)

The result: the other person is happy that he met with you but it was not THE meeting he or she was looking for.

Approach B: Creating Memorable Moments

In this approach you start off the meeting well below the baseline. Actually, you start the meeting listening to the other person – curious and wanting to learn more about the other person. You understand what the person cares about deeply (as much as you can)

Honestly, you don’t have to worry about dropping below the baseline because the first few minutes, the other person really wants to believe that you are at the baseline (validating his own beliefs about the zeroth impression). Plus, since you are totally engaging them by talking about what matters most to them, they don’t have time to think about you.

As the conversation proceeds, you start structuring the conversation about THEM (notice MULTIPLE stars in the timeline) and wherever possible, you keep your highpoints relevant to what they care about. In other words, you ensure that you provide a good return on investment for that interaction. If this was the last meeting you were going to have with them, they still got a lot of value from this ONE meeting.

By design or by practice, you end the conversation at a level higher than the baseline – culminating by bringing out the Niagara Factor.

Honestly, what they remember is not much about you but how they felt about themselves before they met you and how they are feeling at the end of the conversation. Always remember that whatever be your level of smartness, they care about you only as much as you care about them.

I will leave with a brilliant quote by Lisa Kirk that sums it up quite nicely:

“A gossip is one who talks to you about others; a bore is one who talks to you about himself; and a brilliant conversationalist is one who talks to you about yourself”