Thursday, January 17, 2013

As Advertised

You often hear people giving advice on the importance of making a good first impression. There's something to it. Most of us are inundated with so much information and activity, that we tend to quickly filter out all but that which grabs our attention and makes an impression. So, if for no other reason, making a good first impression may be the only way to get the opportunity to make a second one, or more accurately, making an impression (good or otherwise) is a requirement for making a second one.

This calls into question "good"; what makes an first impression a good one?

I guess that all depends on what you hope to accomplish. By definition, first impressions are made when your meet someone for the first time. The situations vary. It might be a job interview or the first day on a new job; it might be a blind date or the first time you meet your partner's parents. It might be a sales call or a presentation to the board of directors.

The definition of "good" varies with the situation. In one, you might want to appear smart and self-motivated, in another you might want avoid appearing too smart or ambitious. In one, you're fashion conscious and dress sharply. In another, you're casual, easy and not particularly aware of trends and styles.

When someone advises you on making a good first impression (or perhaps when you advise others), it's often accompanied by advice on what "good" means. The mere fact that that you're receiving the advice likely means that "good" doesn't mean you, or at least, not in your current state.

"If you want to get that job, you're going to have get a haircut, buy a new suit, and make sure that you show up on time for that interview."

"If you want her to like you, you're going to have to brush up on your Shakespeare, brighten those teeth, and do something about that combover."

"If you don't want your new teachers to think you're some kind of delinquent, you're going to have to..."

So, accepting advice on making a good first impression means changing something about yourself, you probably often do it.


Because, it tends to work. Sometimes you take the advice straight away, sometimes you like to give it a go on your own before succumbing to change. Still, change you do, and the change is good, at least in the context of achieving what you set out to achieve.

However, there's a problem with making a good first impression; the degree of the problem is directly proportional to the variance between the impression and you. Sometimes you do such a great job at making a good impression that you end up dreading the results of your success. It's one thing to buy a suit to get a job; it's another to buy a wardrobe now that you've landed it. It's one thing to exude confidence, clarity and gregariousness for the duration of an interview; it's another to do it ten hours/day, five-days/week.

The problem with making too good a first impression is that you end up selling a product that doesn't actually exist. The product may be on the drawing board, it may be in development, it may be in beta test, or it may be only a concept. Nonetheless, it's not something that's ready for everyday use.

So what do you do? Do you buck it up and decide to deliver on the as-advertised promise? Do you fake it for a while with the plan to let them down slowly, hoping that they don't notice? Do you walk back in and make a strongly corrected second impression? It can be a challenge, specially when the upside of the good impression has strong appeal.

In the end, most of us recognize that, while trying to make a good first impression, people often oversell their strengths and mask their weaknesses, because most of us have done it. Knowing that, most of us slowly morph from the as-advertised to the as-is, and everyone seems OK with it.

What if we decided not to do that? What if we decided to deliver on that first impression, to over-deliver on it. What if each of us decided to be all we were advertised to be on that job interview or on that first date or during that audition. What if we decided to always be as conscious of others, as engaged with our activities, as confident, as energetic, as enthusiastic as we were then? How would things change if we showed up every day as advertised?

Maybe you already do. Maybe you're better than advertised. Maybe there are a couple of things that are not quite as advertised. Maybe nothing is as advertised. Maybe it's time to ask the people on whom you made the first impressions whether or not they got what was advertised. Maybe...

Happy Thursday,

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