100 Ways to Succeed #12:

Micromanage First & Last Impressions!

First & Last impressions are your and my personal-career keys, and the keys to a company's customer service report card. We both get that, of course. But: I don't know about you, but I need ... Constant Reminding. For example, my wife rags on me semi-constantly for not looking people directly in the eye when I'm introduced. At first, I thought she was nuts, especially as I get paid sometimes to attend post-speech "G & G" (Grip & Grin) sessions with execs or top salespeople or key customers. But she's right, I belatedly had to admit—I think it's my soul-deep shyness. (No baloney; a lot of people who sparkle at a podium are withdrawn in more intimate settings—and vice versa.) Upshot: I'm working on it—and work it is; but worth it.

Back to the overall issue. Fox News' CEO and uber-spin doctor Roger Ailes claims I/you/we have ... 7 SECONDS ... to make a first impression. And he gives us this advice: First: "Amp up your attitude." Some people radiate energy, some don't. But the don'ts at least can square their shoulders, and pump themselves up a bit. ("Energy" is not to be confused with aggressiveness. Energy is, in my opinion—I don't know about Roger—mostly seen in the eyes.) Second rule per Ailes: "Give your message a mission." That is, if you've got something you want to get from the interaction ... STAY ON MESSAGE. President Bush gets some low scores on oral presentation—but one and all agree he is the all-time master of staying precisely on message. Ailes #3: "Recognize 'face value.'" A "poker face" works well in poker—but is a disaster in more normal human interaction, including in professional settings. Call it "animation" or "engagement" (my terms, not Ailes'); but it is different than raw energy; it's something about being in the moment. And again, the idea is not to do jumping jacks—animation to me is mostly the intensity of concentration. (My wife—this time I think it's a positive—claims my intensity of listening-concentration scares her half to death if it's aimed her way. I wouldn't know.) The "bottom line" here is more important than the specific points: PAY MINDFUL ATTENTION TO HOW YOU ENGAGE!! IT'S AS IMPORTANT AS "CONTENT"—LIKE IT OR NOT. (Idea: Imagine that Karl Rove and Karen Hughes were looking over your left and right shoulders respectively, as you approach an interaction. Think about what they'd be whispering in your ear right before ... contact.)

Organizationally, the notion is essentially the same. Recall yesterday's Blog that included kudos to Griffin Hospital. Griffin says the first impression begins with ... Driving Directions! Prospective patients are already in a tizzy; lousy directions will only fuel their angst—and reinforce the idea that they are not in charge of their circumstances. Winners like Griffin obsess on driving directions, signage, music choice for the lobby, etc., etc. Of course Disney, no surprise, is the quintessential player here. My simple advice: BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS ARE OVERWHELMINGLY IMPORTANT—AND SURELY COUNT AS "STRATEGIC SUBSTANCE" IN ANY INTERCHANGE. Think through "B & Es" very carefully. Invest Time & Money & Training in "B & Es." Hey: How about a new "C-level" job? Chief of Beginnings and Endings? Chief Start 'n Stop?