We’ve all heard the adage, “You have six seconds to make a first impression.”
In an instant, we can connect meaningfully with someone or be banished to their “I never want to talk to this person again” mental cube.
Surprising the power of a simple moment.
But what causes these different results? Is it our hair, our clothes, our smile (or lack thereof), or something else?
Our outward appearance is certainly a factor. Everything about us tells a story. Our scratched or polished shoes say something. Our pressed or wrinkled shirt says otherwise. Without thinking, we meet someone and put these cues together into a story about who the person is.
In addition to our outward appearance, powerful intangibles make or break our first impressions. Mostly it’s how we make someone feel. If we make a person feel meaningful, if we exude warmth and positivity, if we are engaged and authentic, we make a connection. If not, we don’t.
These simple equations give some insight into this dynamic:
- Bad looks + Poor intangibles = No connection
- Good looks + Poor intangibles = bad / insufficient experience, limited connection
- Good looks + good intangibles = sublime connection
But what happens when a massive shift occurs and we meet more people online than in real life? And does our digital presence take center stage?
Our new (digital) normal.
Over the past year, every new business acquaintance we’ve met has only seen them from the shoulder up on Zoom or only heard their voice on the phone. They’re floating heads on our laptops, present for the briefest of moments during our call, and then, poof! They disappear as soon as the tab is closed.
We know that our appearance matters from the shoulders up. We consciously focus on radiating warmth and being present, but that immediate, effortless connection that usually forms in a real-life (IRL) meeting is elusive. When we try to connect with others, our brains tend to look for two vital qualities: trustworthiness and credibility. Unfortunately, establishing them when we haven’t interacted with someone in person is difficult. That’s just human nature.
So to Google we all go, as Google is the keeper of all secrets and the answer to all questions. Who is this person? Can I trust them? Ought to? Are they legit? Is it your business? Our new contacts are consciously scouring the internet for information about us and unconsciously replaying moments of our interactions with them to shape the disparate pieces into constellations, hoping to understand who we really are and whether they can be trusted us or not
Shaping your narrative
If someone said, “I Googled you,” how would you feel? Confident? Calm down? In a panic? fearful? Would someone doing an online search about you find a carefully curated collection of images, articles, and testimonials? An unpredictable part of everything that happened to bring the Internet together? Or would they not find anything that really relates to you?
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of our clients worriedly asked us, “How can we build trust with new prospects if we can’t meet with them at conferences and rest and chat for a meal?” We want to share with you what we told him.
A digital presence that truly represents and reflects who you are can help bridge that gap with a new acquaintance. This presence works tirelessly on your behalf, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, answering every query that Google makes of it. It can be an effective tool to build trust and help people get to know you.
But please don’t worry – you don’t need a massive social media following, nor do you need to spend your day scrolling, liking, sharing, tweeting and commenting non-stop. We’re simply talking about defining your desired digital presence and establishing a sustainable infrastructure to cultivate it.
Five effective tactics
You have a great opportunity, literally at your fingertips, to shape and improve your digital presence. We recommend starting with these five approaches.
The level of control you have over your LinkedIn profile makes it an especially easy place to start. The following are some simple ways to start polishing your profile.
- Select a meaningful banner image. It can be a picture of something important to you or a graphic that represents your brand/company. Your banner image is a subtle but powerful way to provide context about who you are and what you value.
- Update your headshot. Make sure it’s clear, professional and shows how you want to be perceived.
- Review your title. Add a description so people can better understand who you are. Remember: You are more than a job title.
- Clarify and confirm your contact information. Make it easy for people to approach you.
- Optimize your “about” section. A short and snappy bio is golden.
- Edit your experience. Keep it concise but comprehensive.
- Add (more) personal recommendations. Ask trusted people in your network to review you or your company.
- Customize your public profile URL.
Great examples of inspiration include:
2. Crisp content
Creating content and publishing it online positions you as an expert and thought leader. This is an immensely powerful social currency that gives people a sense of who you are and what you think. Think of it as a long-running medium that offers deeper opportunities to engage people, and one over which you have complete control, so you can shape the way others perceive you, your talent set, and the your place in your industry.
Starting a blog is a great way to share your content with the world and prove your worth. You can also post articles with multiple images or videos directly to LinkedIn.
Videos are a means to communicate your knowledge, connect with people and provide value in a unique way. They provide a richer, more dynamic experience through which people can get to know you and learn from you. They are incredibly effective confidence builders because psychologically seeing your personality and body language influences a person’s impression of you. People can get the confirmation they need to believe you are the expert you say you are. Videos also allow you to project something that would otherwise only be possible in an in-person meeting: sincerity.
- Louis Lehot is an attorney and entrepreneur based in Palo Alto, CA who produces the YouTube series #askasiliconvalleylawyer.
- Lukas Dietzsch is a Philadelphia-based real estate investor who produces the YouTube series #thelukasshow about investing in US real estate for German investors.
4. Personal website
Personal websites can show the real you – you make all the design and content decisions yourself and therefore determine how the site represents you. You can include anything you think is vital information, from your volunteering or community involvement, to your professional life, family details, articles you’ve written, etc. This gives people a chance to dive into your world and get to know you.
Images are powerful because they can tell a compelling story, without any words. What would a Google Image search reveal about you? Would you show images that you are proud of, that are representative of your character and values? Or would it generate a random batch of photos posted by others, without a clear connecting narrative? For starters, consider using a unique photo whenever you have a bio or internet reference. Google’s image recognition technology actually knows when you’re wearing a different shirt and avoids filling in duplicate photos whenever possible.
Preferred tools to enrich one’s digital presence
You don’t need to be a software ninja to start managing and improving your digital presence. There are many easy-to-use applications that can help you easily create visually pleasing and professional-looking digital assets. Strengthen your personal brand by taking advantage of these tools.
Video: Even beginners can learn how to edit videos flawlessly with the following apps.
• Adobe Premiere Pro
• Apple Final Cut Pro X
Graphic design/photo editing:
• Canva (even the free version can deliver impressive results.)
Website: Learning one of these simple blog-based website builders is well worth your time.
• WordPress Page Builder + Beaver Builder
• Square space
Content/Grammar: We all know misspellings and grammatical errors don’t make for a good first impression, but luckily a good AI assistant can help you avoid common mistakes.
The power of perception
In 2021, would you trust someone who didn’t have a fingerprint? Would you hire a company that has no reviews? In today’s world, your digital presence is a critical part of your personal brand, and consciously curating it could be the best networking move you make this year.
Your digital presence can play a huge role in strengthening your network and helping to make up for any in-person networking opportunities you may have missed during the pandemic. Don’t leave the quality of your online presence to chance.
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All posts are the opinion of the author. Therefore, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the views expressed necessarily reflect the views of the CFA Institute or the author’s employer.
Image credit: ©Getty Images / Alistair Berg
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