IMAGE : Judgement day – You have seven seconds to make a good impression

Millionaire Sir Richard Branson has built an empire, bought Caribbean island, started an airline and made the Virgin brand recognisable around the world. Some might say that Branson himself is the brand.
From selling records by mail order from an office above shoe shop in London’s Oxford Street in the 1970s he wheeled and dealed to the point where music giant EMI wondered if he was going to make hostile take over of the company. In the end, they bought his record company.
But what’s this got to do with story on making good first impression? Well, the experts tell us that the first seven seconds of meeting someone for the first time can set the tone for the future of the relationship – key judgements on how we dress, look, act and speak are all taken into account. And we’re led to believe that if we don’t get it right then we will die poor and lonely.
However, Branson got to where he is by never, ever, wearing necktie, he frequently wore jumpers, jeans and casual shoes to business meetings, and he became multi millionaire. Somehow he got away with attending business meetings where millions of pounds were at stake wearing his Sunday casuals.
“He does seem to be the exception to the rule,” says Susan Axford, personal image expert and former newspaper fashion editor.
“But I don’t think one has to wear necktie [to be successful] as people make judgements on people’s entire grooming and overall appearance. You can still look neat and professional and corporate without wearing tie.
“A lot has to do with the attention to detail such as how well the clothes you are wearing fit you. How well groomed they are and having clean shoes is must. The trick is to let your ability shine through and not distract people with what you are wearing.”
And apart from what you wear she says making good eye contact, shaking hands well, having good posture and neat hair all go into the mix of making good first impression.
“Anyone with the money can go out and buy the most fabulous clothes,” says Axford. “But you don’t have to have the most expensive garments so long as what you do have fits you well and you have the other attributes. Fantastic suit and grubby shoes won’t cut it.
“You need to have that whole picture, and that’s what people tend to forget.”
And personal grooming, says Axford, is critical. She advises men to look at those sideburns, snip the nostril hair, trim back bushy eyebrows and remove the fluff from the back of the neck.
“Once we’ve done the meet and greet, we sit down at table and only the top half of our body is shown – and that’s what people with you will concentrate on.
“People will look at your face and will notice hairy nose, ears, grubby fingernails and will be put off by them. It’s almost like subliminal image and if the people you are with don’t think you look professional then they won’t think you are professional in your job.”
And she says fashion doesn’t come into it at all when trying to look good. You should wear modern clothes, she advises. But they don’t have to be the latest fashion.
“Some people can look silly in the latest fashions if they don’t suit them or if those clothes are not appropriate. It’s all about being appropriate. For example, lawyer will dress differently to an architect.”
Axford says the same rules basically apply to both men and women.
“But again it depends on where the person is working – what suits retail environment where someone is selling make up will not fit someone working in law firm,” says Axford. “In an office, ladies have to be bit more cautious and not overdo the perfume, don’t show too much cleavage, keep everything moderate – you don’t want to see the Christine Rankin dangly earrings…”
As an aside, Axford says when it comes to ‘dress down Fridays’ slack dress can lead to slack work practices.
“Research has shown that at the end of the week, people were dressing down, looking forward to after work events and productivity dropped,” she says.
And first impressions aren’t restricted to just people according to Vodafone’s facilities manager Jonathan Jepson. He helped shape the reception and waiting area at the mobile phone company’s iconic office in Auckland.
Jepson says the company’s reception area doesn’t have the Vodafone name on display because designers made the decision to brand the building so clearly that anyone entering couldn’t be confused about where they were when they walked into reception. He says many companies fail visitors by not making it clear where they are, where they should go and often do not do enough to make them feel welcome.
“The building screams Vodafone,” says Jepson. “There is no way anyone could walk in here and not know where they were.”
Another thing the company has done is to free up reception staff from answering the telephone so people on the front desk only deal with visitors.
“It means visitors are not left waiting while the receptionist finishes phone call, nor are staff diverted from helping visitors by ringing phone. We want all our visitors to feel like they are the most important person in the building while they are in reception.
“Anyone walking into our building gets our full care and attention. It’s cliché, but we love the visitor to death – that’s what it is about,” says Jepson.
The company also has dedicated waiting area for visitors, complete with free barista and other refreshments. But it’s 40-metre walk from the reception area. Quite long walk that, if not handled properly, could leave the visitor feeling cut adrift. However, Jepson says the company gets around this by escorting all visitors to the waiting area.
“That could have been ‘customer death’ if staff just opened the door and told visitors to carry on walking until they hit dead end and then sit down and wait,” says Jepson. “If you did that you’d lose the touch point. So reception staff walk visitors down there, shows them the barista service and offers refreshments. This area is for visitors only – no staff member is allowed to nip down for free coffee.
“So visitors are welcomed properly and settled in while the person they are here to meet comes to greet them properly. Our key is to keep the touch point with the visitor and not to let them go cold.”
He says good reception areas engage visitors into the nature and culture of the company.
“We wanted building that represented our brand and our brand is about openness, it’s about buzz, excitement, brightness, transparency and all those things I hope people link to the Vodafone brand.
“The waiting area is so popular that many meetings are held there rather than in meeting room – visitors don’t have to be taken to another part of the building.”
Jepson says many companies treat the reception area as an after thought when it should be part of the overall design.
“One new reception area I visited recently sat visitors in corridor where you had to keep tucking your legs in under the chair or risk tripping staff up as they walked past,” says Jepson.
“While the firm had fantastic reception area, they clearly had given no thought to what to do with visitors after they had signed in. While I was there I felt as though I was in the way and I was one of their customers.”
Andrew Tu’inukuafe is design director at Creative Spaces and says people quickly make decisions about the firms they visit based on the reception area.
“Any reception area needs to accurately reflect the company’s brand and the design should follow through to the back offices,” he says. “It’s no good if the reception has one look and feel and then you get past that to the other offices and find they are drab and don’t match the front.”
Tu’inukuafe says what companies should avoid is disconnect between their virtual space and their physical space.
“A company may start out connecting with their customers in web and print and when those people arrive at the firm’s physical space they need to make that connection that it is the same company. reception should be 3

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