Teaching our Kids to Make a Winning First Impression


“A stunning first impression was not the same thing as love at first sight. 
But surely it was an invitation to consider the matter.” 
-Lois McMaster Bujold

One of life’s greatest adventures is what becomes of the people we meet for the first time. Every relationship has its beginning, but we don’t know what will come of it at the time. Who knows, it might be a future spouse, BFF, boss, reference, mother (or father) in law, client, or work colleague. None of us would be where we are today if it weren’t for new connections that turned into something great. And as for me, I don’t for one minute believe they were all due to chance. 

Here’s a great example. When my son, Mike, graduated from college and unexpectedly returned home (after a planned startup went kaput), I developed a list of people I wanted him to meet. At the top was my friend Tim, who ran a young adult ministry in our area. I called Tim and arranged a visit the following week at a local coffee joint where Mike and I would be. I knew they would hit it off and something good would come of it. To make a very long story short, the intro was magic (they were sharing contact info about two minutes in!), and Tim recruited Mike into a leadership role in his organization. That led to an eventual introduction to a beautiful (and single!) young gal named Stevie. A year later, they would be married, with the ceremony officiated by none other than Tim himself! 

Clearly, if I didn’t initiate this connection, Mike’s life would never be the same, and we wouldn’t have acquired a wonderful daughter in-law. But another thing was key. Early on, we taught our children how to make a great first impression. As we always said, you never know what comes from the people you meet, so always be on your “A Game” when it happens. Thankfully, they took that advice to heart. 

Interestingly, when I taught a life skills course some years back, I asked my students what was the most valuable lesson over the semester. The landslide winner was on how to make a winning first impression. Kids are starving for this kind of practical skill-building and the stakes are too high if we don’t teach them this essential lesson. Parents and teachers, take note!

For some people this comes naturally, but for others, it’s an acquired skill. Those with strong social skills, some level of extroversion, and a dose of self-confidence thrive on opportunities to meet new people. It is naturally more challenging for introverts (who often love one-on-ones but not group settings), those less socially experienced, those lacking self-confidence, and in situations where they feel “out of their league” with a particular crowd or person. (I vividly recall struggling with this early in my career—small town kid meets high finance! Thankfully, I overcame it with experience.)

There is another aspect in today’s world that is interfering with successful “first impressioning.” The more we, and especially our children, consume technology and gaming, the less time we spend in person with others. This is taking a significant toll on relationship building and has become increasingly common (ask any employer of teens/young adults). It is manifested in social awkwardness, distractibility, disengagement, discomfort, and disinterest—none of which will win fans and influence people.  Telltale behaviors include a weak handshake, wavering eye contact (often looking down), phone distractions, poor body language, nervous gestures/speech, and difficulty carrying on a two-way conversation. We’ve all seen it. 

The good news is that with some training and experience, it’s a pretty easy skill to master. If I did it, you/they can, too! As for the training part, here are our best tips for making a winning first impression:

  1. Embrace the opportunity. You are about to meet someone who might be an amazing person in your life, so act like it! And don’t forget, you’re a pretty amazing person for them to meet, too! Be excited for the adventure of what might come. This will get your attitude right. 
  2. Demonstrate through your words, tone, and body language, that you’re excited to meet them. Allow your enthusiasm to come through. Be positive. Smile. Stay engaged throughout. Avoid distractions like the plague. 
  3. Focus more on getting to know them than on them getting to know you. Nothing takes the pressure off of meeting someone more than focusing on them in your conversation. Ask questions. Then follow up questions. And more. Listen. Listen. Listen. Being inquisitive is the best way to deal with nerves, especially when meeting people with much stronger credentials.
  4. Be genuine. Often, especially in professional situations and interviews (and social/dating encounters), we try to impress. We talk more. We brag. We try to act smart and be funny. At its core, this is a self-confidence issuing of thinking we have to be someone else in order to win favor. People see through it in a heartbeat. So, relax, take a deep breath, and just be yourself. And if that’s not good enough, nothing more was meant to be. That’s okay!
  5. Be confident, but humble. This is a balancing act, but one surefire way to ruin a first impression is being arrogant and self-centered. Humility is always a winner. 
  6. Be respectfulfriendly, and polite. You needn’t be Miss Manners but pretty close!
  7. Avoid these risks. Since you’re just getting to know them, stay away from controversial topics or private matters that require a more advanced relationship. Remember, at inception, you’re simply acquaintances.  
  8. Remember (and repeat) their name. The older we get, or the larger the number of people we may meet at an event, the more apt we are to forget the name of a person we just met. It’s embarrassing (personal experience here!). So, I make it a point to mention their name at both the beginning and end of our conversation. And if it’s a common first name, think of someone famous with that name to help you remember.  
  9. End on a strong note. A good closing that demonstrates you are glad to have met them will leave a great impression. Even something simple like, “___, it was great meeting you. I look forward to seeing you again,” will be appreciated. And, say it with a smile.  

It is said that the first 30 seconds of a job interview may not land you the job, but it can surely cost you it. Maybe that’s not fair, but it is the way it is. Throughout life, our relationships matter almost more than anything. Let’s help our kids get off to a winning start with theirs.


Dennis Trittin is the author of What I Wish I Knew at 18: Life Lessons for the Road Ahead and Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World. Through his books, blog, and nationwide speaking engagements, Dennis prepares students for life success and equips parents and educators in their vital training role. You can find him here on Facebook.

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