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Don't Underestimate the Importance of Making a Good First Impression It's very hard to give a presentation so good that it overcomes a bad first impression.

By Jacqueline Whitmore Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Thomas Barwick | Getty Images

You finally got that initial meeting scheduled with your dream client. You've prepared your presentation and you're ready to walk in the door.

But you will blow it without even knowing it if you inadvertently make a bad first impression. According to Dr. Albert Mehrabian's 7%-38%-55% Rule, only 7 percent of your communicating is what you say, while 38 percent is how you sound and 55 percent is visual.

Your client begins forming his or her opinion of you long before you start your presentation. Here is how you can make a great first impression from the get-go.

Use professional phone etiquette

When talking with an appointment setter, the secretary or potential clients themselves, keep your first conversation professional, succinct and polite. Always use the person's name in conversation and don't forget the magic words, "please" and "thank you."

Related: 9 Strategies to Get Past the Gatekeeper

Dress for success.

Since much of your impression is visual, grooming matters. Dress professionally, but don't try to over-impress. Find out about the company's dress code ahead of time and dress a step above. Pay attention to the details: buff your shoes, carry a nice laptop bag, and silence your cell phone before entering the building. The interview starts the moment you drive into the parking lot so give yourself plenty of time to park, find the meeting room, and go to the restroom to check your appearance one last time.

Related: Never Underestimate the Business Advantages of Dressing Well

Tuck away the cell phone.

When you sit down in the waiting room resist the urge to check messages or return phone calls. Use this time to showcase your good manners to the receptionist and others in the waiting area. Make small talk, but don't be too chatty. If you're offered a beverage, accept it gracefully, even if you're not thirsty. It's considered rude not to accept hospitality when offered. Check out the surroundings and the office dynamics. Look for framed articles, awards, or other items that can be tucked away in your memory for future conversation pieces.

Related: 20 Ways to Create an Impressive Office Reception Area (Infographic)

Offer a firm handshake.

Rise and shake hands with your prospect as they enter the room. Standing shows respect for the other person as well as yourself. Always wait to see if your client tells you where to sit instead of immediately seating yourself. If you're not told where to sit, simply say, "Where would you like for me to sit?" Keep your cell phone off the table, as it might appear as if you are waiting for a more important call to come in.

Related: How to Master the Art of the First Impression

Watch your body language.

Sit tall and don't slouch or fidget. Don't bite your nails or play with your pen. Lean in, maintain good eye contact and capture attention with your professional and confident demeanor.

Related: 8 Great Tricks for Reading People's Body Language

Prepare your opening remarks but listen more than you talk.

Make some small talk before getting down to business. Do your homework and find out a little bit about the person before the meeting. Prepare a topic that relates to something you both have in common.

Don't do all the talking. Engage your client with relevant, timely questions that help them think of their situation in a new way. Allow the client to answer before continuing and note their concerns. Consider yourself an adviser rather than a salesperson and you may see the meeting from a whole new perspective.

Start on time and end early.

Respect the time limit you agreed upon, and wrap up a few minutes early, if possible. Answer questions and set a "next action" item. Immediately send an email thanking the client for his or her time.

Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy writes in her book Presence that people quickly answer two questions when they first meet you:

  • Can I trust this person?
  • Can I respect this person?

Also referred to as warmth and competence respectively, you want to be perceived as having both, although in a professional setting most people mistakenly believe that competence may be more important.

In reality, Cuddy says, trustworthiness and warmth are the most important factor in how people evaluate you. Displaying your strength can actually backfire. Only after you've established trust does your strength reinforce your position.

Take time to make a good first impression and you're well on your way to having both feet in the door.

Jacqueline Whitmore

Author, Business Etiquette Expert and Founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach

Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).

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