Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : February 25th 2016 Contents Imeet with dozens of people every
week, sometimes hundreds, many of
them for the first time. They come
from all walks of life. Some are captains
of industry, and others are politicians
or celebrities. Many are young entre-
preneurs who are just starting out (my favorite
people to meet). But no matter who they are,
the strength of our connection is established
by that all-important first impression.
Making a good and lasting first impression
is important for entrepreneurs at all stages of
their careers. In part, it has to do with appear-
ance. The author Mark Twain suggested that
when it came to first impressions, dress was
of vital importance. "Clothes make the man,"
he once declared. "Naked people have little
or no influence in society."
Of course, the 19th century he knew was
an era in which dressing "properly" was impor-
tant, and much of life was a horribly formal
affair, whereas in many business settings today,
if you re wearing a clean pair of jeans, a wrin-
kle-free shirt and a pair of sneakers, you ll fit
These days, it s possible that wearing a jacket
and tie to a business meeting may make a bad
first impression. In fact, it can be more risky
than turning up underdressed, as anyone who
has had their fancy silk tie snipped off by
yours truly will attest!
For years, my signature look was jeans and
a wool sweater, and if you saw me in a jacket
and tie, it was a sure sign of bad news (it likely
meant I had a meeting with bankers!). Today
I find that a pair of jeans, an open-necked
white shirt and a dark casual jacket will get
me through just about any occasion. Ties are
reserved for very rare events like weddings
and funerals, but, generally speaking, I consider
them an anachronism---even for bankers.
Next, the handshake. From childhood, we
have all been urged to look the other person
straight in the eye and offering a firm---but
not bone-crushing---handshake. (I substitute
a quick fist bump if I fear that my hand is
about to be mangled by a strong handshake)
This moment of human contact is essential.
And that look in the other person s eye
shouldn t be a quick glance. Sustain eye contact
for as long as it takes to let them know that
you really see them.
Of course, don t overdo it. Sometimes a
bone-crushing handshake will be accompanied
by a lengthy, piercing stare, which only makes
the recipient uncomfortable. But trust is a
critical issue in every relationship, and when
you first meet someone, establishing a con-
nection matters; just think of how often you ve
heard someone say, "I just didn t trust the
look in his eyes."
And certainly, good manners are often a
factor. In the 14th century, William of Wyke-
ham, the headmaster at Winchester College,
created the motto for the prestigious British
boys school: "Manners maketh man." It has
endured for centuries, and I tend to agree
using the words "please" and "thank you"
frequently will help you to make a favorable
first impression when you are, say, having a
meal with people you just met.
Finally, what you say matters. The ability
to communicate effectively is key to every
aspect of our lives, and nowhere is that more
true than in the business world. True leadership
is not about domination --- it s about building
trust and empathy through strong relationships.
So be genuine and direct in a first meeting.
This will speak volumes about who you are
--- information that cannot be conveyed even
on the best résumé.
One thing not to do: Don t try too hard to
be funny. If you re funny, and it s natural and
spontaneous, that s fine. But don t use humour
that s forced and scripted. Even my own wife
frequently reminds me that my sense of humor
is "an acquired taste."
Not everyone can carry off a joke at a busi-
ness meeting, so go easy. Be sure that your
jokes are appropriate and that the person you re
meeting is going to understand them. Unless
you re a comedian, it s unlikely that you want
to be remembered as "really funny."
You truly never get a second chance to make
a first impression, so smile, be yourself, look
them in the eye and knock em dead!
(Richard Branson is the founder of the
Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin
Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and
Virgin Active. He maintains a blog at
can follow him on Twitter at
twitter.com/richardbranson. To learn more
about the Virgin Group: www.virgin.com.)
(Questions from readers will be answered
in future columns. Please send them to
Richard.Branson@nytimes.com. Please include
your name, country, e-mail address and the
name of the Web site or publication where
you read the column.)
FEBRUARY 25 • 2016 www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG15
The dos and
don'ts of first
• DO make sure
that you look pre-
you're meeting a po-
partner or investor
for the first time.
But DON'T over-
dress, you don't
want to stand out
like a sore thumb!
• DO shake hands
and engage the
other person with
eye contact. DON'T
grip his hand too
hard and let your eye
contact turn into a
• DO be natural
and genuine when
you meet someone
for the first time.
DON'T force yourself
to be funny, it never
works out if humour
A recipe for first impressions
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