Home > Leadership, The Monday Musings Column > First impressions count, but you can’t judge a book by its cover

First impressions count, but you can’t judge a book by its cover

Two very conflicting statements, but both are encountered pretty much daily in business, so which is true?

We talk a lot about the first 10 seconds, the 30 second elevator pitch, the 6 word pitch and we micro blog in under 140 characters. We talk in sound bites and all know people who have the attention span of a gnat. Novelists have to grab their readers with a killer opening sentence or the book will go back on the shelf. A lot of things have that immediacy these days, so there is a lot to being able to grab attention.

Being able to do this is a good discipline anyway; to be able to scope a project or business plan on one side of A4 means that you have thought it out and, probably, have it right. To be able to put a point across in three or four sentences in a meeting is effective and saves everyone time. If you can cut to the chase and avoid all of the peripheral, often irrelevant, issues it is a great business skill and well worth practising.

I am a great fan of the three minute presentation as a discipline. To be able to report on your work area’s KPIs, to update on project progress, run through your plans for the next month or whatever in 180 seconds makes you focus on the important points. It also steers you away from bogging down with the worst excesses of visual aids and presentation tools. A three minute presentation is also easier to learn by heart, or maybe with just a few crib notes, and so it provides a great way of improving your skills at talking on your feet.

Making the right first impression may well get you hired for that job or win your company that piece of business, and there are a lot of sources of help geared to pointing you in the right direction.  From the view point of the person selling, whether it is themselves a product or a service, I always recommend trying to master the approach.

But when you are the person hiring or buying, why are you allowing yourself to be so shallow? Why are you risking your business (and your reputation) on what can only be a kneejerk reaction? Let’s face it, would you really want to hire someone who made important business decisions without thinking things through? Sure experience helps you reach decisions quickly, and there are times when you need to make a snap decision, but are we really willing to accept that decisions are routinely made on gut reactions?

Yes, you can judge a book by its cover, but to do so is to run the risk of missing out on a gem, hence the adage being that you can’t. Perhaps it should really be that you shouldn’t, but my point is that, when you are making a choice, you should make as thorough as possible evaluation of your choices to give yourself the best chance of reaching the right decision.

My buying background influences that thinking, but so does my general management experience, the number of industrial accidents I have investigated, the number of disciplinary cases I have examined, the strategic and tactical plans I have evaluated let alone the hundreds of prospective employees or promotees I have interviewed and assessed.

Of course we have to sift, but the later stages of evaluating anything or anyone should be thorough. Making snap decisions at that stage makes very little sense, and I suggest that those that do are taking an unnecessary risk.

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