How to Nail a Great First Impression at Your Next Meeting

Keep attendees engaged from the first slide

“Just a few more minutes … we are waiting on a handful of attendees.”

“Is this thing on? Can you guys hear me?” 

“I might need to call IT down here to fix this.”

You likely attend a lot of meetings. And if they’re kicked off by the three phrases above, chances are you’re feeling frustrated before the first slide is even projected onto the screen. Because let’s face it––like handshakes, interview outfits and television show pilots, first impressions matter, regardless of how stellar the meeting’s content actually is. 

So how can you ensure your meeting begins with a bang and sets up your planned agenda for success? With guidance from a recent Harvard Business Review report, we highlight four key ways. 

1. Look (and act) the part.

Like the last blind date you agreed to go on or job interview you attended, outfit choice and general demeanor for an initial first meeting is critical. And while your attendees aren’t lining up to win your affection (no offense!) or scrutinizing your ability to perform your job, they’re still keeping an eyeful watch on how you dress and engage, according to a study from Psychology Today.  

According to the study, we form positive or negative judgments about our future relationship with a person within just seconds of meeting them. So when it comes to your big presentation, be mindful of dress (no need to go overboard, but put consideration into your outfit selection––and make sure it’s clean!) and project a knowledgeable, engaging confidence. 

2. Start on time.

From straggling attendees to technical difficulties, is there anything more wince-inducing than a meeting that starts 10, 15 or even 20 minutes late? And as HBR suggests, prolonging the start of your meeting gives off a definitively unprofessional vibe, telling attendees that you’re not in control of your own content. (Ouch.)

While these obstacles are often unavoidable, do your best to begin on time––which means that, first and foremost, you don’t wait for stragglers (unless it’s the guest of honor or a CEO, of course). Having technical difficulties? Plan ahead with a non-electronic backup, like having your PowerPoint slides printed prior to starting. 

3. Outline exactly what will happen.  

Humans are pretty narcissistic creatures, continually assessing situations with a “what’s in it for me?” attitude. The same goes for your attendees: What’s the purpose of this gathering, and how does it affect my work? (I think we can all recall a meeting where we had this lingering question.) 

But while it’s virtually impossible to please every guest through each point of your meeting, you can outline exactly what will be discussed on the first slide. Pinpoint the goals, in addition to how they affect attendees on an individual basis.     

4. Get creative. 

Sometimes there are no two ways around the necessity of delivering (seemingly) ho-hum content at a meeting. But while you and your attendees are all in the business of getting things done efficiently and successfully, there’s no reason you shouldn’t incorporate some fun into the mix.

Consider sharing a compelling anecdote, story or poignant quote to kick off your presentation. For example, is there a particular story or fable that seems to mimic your company’s struggle? Or maybe there’s a funny movie clip relevant to your topic that you can project on-screen. TED Talks provide some fantastic examples of how to start meetings with anecdotes and stories. Regardless of your creative approach, just ensure it’s relevant to your presentation. (In other words, don’t make noise just because you can.)