It is said that your initial impression is almost everlasting. Indeed, it takes a lot to undo an initial impression. In fact, you usually have about 90 seconds to make a good first impression. Beyond that, unless you are a brilliant conversationalist, people tend to tune you out. Thus, it is important to use that first 90 seconds, and there are various techniques you can use to maximize your effectiveness.
0) Have a purpose in mind
All communications have a purpose. It could be to make friends, to flirt, to persuade, to network, and so on.
Remember, it never hurts to have a bigger network, and as Harvey Mackey said, "Dig the well before your are thirsty: network now so you can use the network later!"
Or to paraphrase the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland... if you don't know where you're going, then it doesn't matter which way you go. Same with communication. Just what impression do you wish to convey? "Good impression" is such a generic term, wouldn't you agree?
1) Go in prepared
You should always have a business card and an "elevator speech" ready.
Business cards are simple and to the point. It may seem old fashioned (people seem to like the iPhone "bump", or the vCard...) But remember: a business card is physical. You can hold it in your hand, and it requires no electricity. Even if you are unemployed, you can still afford to print some business cards on your computer printer, or go to VistaPrint and order a few hundred cards for a minimum price (I think the first 100 is free). In fact, consider printing up some personal cards, just your name and a catchy line, great for speed dating... See someone you like? Just write down your phone number THEN give the prospect the card.
(and present it with BOTH hands)
As for an elevator speech... That's for when you bump someone into an elevator and need to introduce yourself in 10-15 seconds. Practice in front of a mirror: name, what you do, nice to meet you... and so on. Rehearse it many times and get it memorized so you can recite it automatically. Throw in the business card, and you got it made: personal sales pitch.
2) Know thy enemy... if you can
If you know who you are going to meet, or at least have an idea, it is best to do some research beforehand. If they are friends of relatives, or relatives of friends, whatever, pump the relative or friend for information. Look on the Internet if possible. Favorite drink? Coffee type and prep? (Black? One or two sugar? Etc.) favorite color? any fashion sense? Favorite book and author? Favorite topic? Taboo subjects? Any children? Wife/girlfriend or Husband/boyfriend? Their likes? If you need to bring a gift, what may be inexpensive, but still tasteful, and useful? That sort of thing. You're trying to be memorable, not notorious, remember, and to quote G.I. Joe, "knowing is half the battle".
3) Right Mood, Right Attitude
Having the right mood will help you meet the right people. Your body language naturally reflects your mood. If you are morose or occupied, your body screams "stay away", and people will avoid you. Folded arms, wooden face or a scowl, and slouched back are all signs that says "don't bother me". Get into the right mood with happy thoughts about favorite places, and feel your mood shift, which will open up new possibilities.
Just because you are facing what you consider "drones", like airline counter employees, waiters / waitresses, and so on, does NOT mean you should turn off the charm. In fact, those are the people you NEED to charm, esp. if you go back all the time.
Keeping a positive attitude and mood throughout the day will actually improve your overall mood and attitude.
4) Have the right body language
Often, you will say one thing, but your body is indicating something else. It's called "mixed message", and you may not even be aware of it. This is where some friendly critique or even coaching may be required.
The "open body language" means palm open, arms uncrossed, and when conversing, occasionally lean forward as if you need to get a better look, facing the other person directly, steady eye contact... this shows willingness to trust, and rapport between you and the speaker. Occasional nods at the right moment also helps.
When the words don't match the body language, the mixed message indicates a lie or untruth. It was said that communications actually has three parts: visual, vocal, and verbal. Visual communication is at well over 55%, while vocal is about 35%, and verbal... much less than the others. Yes, more than half of the communication is non-verbal, and that includes body language. If your words and gestures don't agree, people will believe the gestures.
Consider videotaping yourself, and see how you really perform, and get some honest critiques from friends and such.
5) Synchronize and empathize
Building rapport is possible naturally, but you can help the process along by using synchronization. Match the other party's gestures, the small ones... leaning from one elbow to another, hand on the hip, leaning forward at the same time, sip water at the same time, whatever.
Don't be too obvious though. Apeing someone is stupid. The idea is mirror him or her just for a few minutes, along with open body language and warm attitude to establish a good impression. When you got the rapport, you can lead the conversation.
Remember, there's synchronizing the attitude, the body language, AND the voice (tonality and all). Once you got the synchronization, you've also empathized.
6) Less talking, more asking and listening
Questions are the "spark plugs" of conversation, if you pick the right ones. There are two types of questions: starter questions, and ender questions. Starter questions starts conversations, and ender conversations end them. Starter questions are also known as open questions because they require one to give an answer AND an opinion, while ender questions, also known as closed questions, just require a yes/no answer, and thus, no conversation. When you are conversing, you need open questions. Closed questions belong in a courtroom.
To start a conversation, start by making a statement, usually about the current location, then a starter question. Starter question always involves the six questions... Who? When? Why? What? When? How? And a long explanation is required. That's why the cliche conversation opener is often about the weather: there is some truth in that.
You can also start conversation by offering information. One would be "Hi I am ______", another would be a relevant observation, like "That's a good book/cd/whatever." If someone gives out free info, and gets free info in return, one should follow up on the free info received to "tune" the conversation.
7) Don't parrot listen, active listen instead
Parrot listeners can repeat back almost every word that was said, but not the meaning. The words did not penetrate much beyond the ears. Active listeners actually hear the emotional issues behind the talk,and hone in on them, and turn it into a question (or more questions) leading to better conversation(s). Here's an example.
A: "What terrible weather we are having for the past few days, heavy occasional showers and wind really can be annoying."
B: "I have no problem with the rain and wind. However, my fiancee prefer the snowy climate up north. I wasn't quite sure."
Parrot Listener A would respond:
A (PL): "Sounds like you like the wind and rain, but you may have to endure snow if you want to stay together."
Active Listener A would respond:
A (AL): "Decision time, eh? I can see you are troubled. What will you do?"
B gave out free information with the sentence, and it is up to A to active listen for those information, and to act upon them. B may not be broadcasting all that information intentionally, but B will notice (maybe not consciously) that A have seized upon that information and continued the conversation on that topic, and thus, building rapport. B will also notice (maybe not consciously) if A ignored the information and talked about something else.
The active listeners also demonstrate both spoken and physical feedback, to further establish rapport, by using the synchronization techniques above.
8) Don't talk, provide feedback instead (except conversation starters)
Building rapport means less talk about yourself or your topics, more talk about themselves and their topics. That means keeping up with the current topics, have an opinion about most of the current issues. Not bigoted opinion, but an informed opinion. Be curious and open, start the conversation if need be, and give sincere feedback, then try to establish common interests, goals, and experiences.
Hold up your end of the conversation. Slow down your normal speech by a bit. Excited people talk too fast and often fail to listen. Slower speech usually improves your confidence. Read the newspaper or watch the news or listen to All-News Radio Channel to get a sense of the major topics so you can join in a conversation and have something to say.
9) Things to avoid in a conversation
Interruptions are bad, unless it's an emergency. As Dale Carnegie said, don't criticize, don't complain, and don't condemn. Don't answer closed questions or even give one-word answers in general. That kills the conversation. Don't monopolize the conversation either, as that come off as egotistical and rude. Do look at who you are conversing with. It's very disconcerting, and Asians have biggest problems with this, as they are often taught to keep head bowed and all that. And finally, don't mess up your personal hygiene. Something like the "Wisp" (a tiny toothbrush for touchups) and a little mouthwash never hurts, nor would any cologne / perfume (don't go overboard though, just a hint / dash should be enough).
10) Add a personal touch to stand out from the rest
You need a personal touch to stand out from the rest. For men, wearing a bow tie instead of a regular necktie is an idea, esp. it is of an odd color. Ladies can be wearing hats, or have a particular hairdo. Fashion accessories such as a vest, a particular pair of shoes, a pair of expensive eyeglasses, a flower as an accessory, a distinct brooch or pin, a particular hair color... The ideas are infinite. If you keep doing it, it becomes your personal characteristic, and makes you memorable.
Use these tips, and you will leave a favorable impression on people you meet for the first time. Enjoy.