How to make a powerful first impression

How do you make a great impression? With so much stress on the adage, "You don't get a second chance at a first impression," what is the proper procedure to not screw it up? There are many tips out there, but here are a few that have worked for me.

A good friend of mine, Chris McVicker, CEO of The Flanders Group and friend of the Jones School of Business, once gave me some advice that continues to impact my life. He said, when you meet somebody they assess you with the "three 12's": 12 feet (your appearance, or "presence"), 12 inches (your handshake, or "feel") and 12 words (your composure and style).

To establish a positive appearance (your 12 feet), take a little extra time in the morning to do the subtle things that put you above and beyond the rest.

Find something unique that you can add to your "classy" outfits to take them over the top (I added some French cuff shirts and cuff links). Even on a casual day you never know who you might meet, so take your time and always class up in your own style!

Next, there is nothing more important than a good handshake (your 12 inches). When I meet new people I make an immediate assessment of them by the "confidence" in their handshake. Have you ever had the infamous "dead fish" handshake? Are you a culprit of this weak-wrist, credibility destroyer? If so, fix it!

Not much matters more to me than receiving a good firm handshake, because it says you mean business. And business is personal, so this fact pertains to all arenas - whether it is meeting a potential "love" interest, a new friend, teammate or business associate.

So how do you make an impression with a handshake? The rule of thumb is firm enough to stand out, but not a bone crushing blow. When in doubt, err on the side of being firm rather than take a chance on becoming known as the "soft gripper."

Extra touch: Impress like a politician. When you shake, add the other hand in a light two-handed clasp, or touch the forearm or elbow of the "shakee." I often go for the elbow, but develop your own style.

What about the twelve words? Do your homework! It's even important for your personal lives. You must find out who you need to connect with in your industry. Once you know who, do your homework - read their articles, research their interests and hobbies, find out where they're going to be, and be there.

I will constantly take notes on people before and after I meet them so that, 1) I can build a personal relationship with them through "small talk," 2) I can follow up with that personal information later - building an even stronger bond, and 3) I never lose track of anybody.

Action plan: Develop your own system for remembering personal facts about the people you meet. Then, follow up!

With the personal information at hand, you will not be "at a loss for words" when you finally meet this highly desired acquaintance. Proper preparation leads to powerful performance.

With a little work each day improving your "three 12's" you can take your personal style of making an impression to a whole new level.

-Joseph Norman is co-founder of a weekly e-newsletter, Notable and Newsworthy: VIP Profiles, with his friend, business partner and fellow Geneseo student Ben DeGeorge. Together they have built relationships with dynamic leaders in many organizations and industries. For more information, check out:, or, e-mail Joseph at