EWO co-founder Paul Preston has had a glittering career in multi-national business, notably leading a massive consumer corporation’s entry into China in the ’90s. The secret to his success? Really thorough preparation. Here are Paul’s pearls of wisdom (gained from his collaboration with Tignum, a business that specialises in sustained high performance for professionals) to help you to prepare to achieve.
I’ve been told that in any contact situation, people form a first impression within just 10 seconds of meeting you.
If that’s right – and I suspect it is – it’s worth putting every effort into preparing yourself brilliantly. Being well-prepared doesn’t mean being unnatural or insincere. In fact, it means the opposite: being well-prepared will give you the confidence and calm to be able to come across more like your authentic self, giving the best possible impression of you in a short space of time.
So how can you prepare yourself for important encounters? Here are my top tips:
1. Clarify your intentions.
Get clear in your mind exactly what kind of impression you’d like to make: think of the key words you want someone to associate with you. Use this starting point to think through the finer details of what you’ll do, say and wear to the event or meeting, even down to your handshake, smile, level of eye contact and how you’ll sit. These plans aren’t set in stone, of course – you need to be flexible enough to adapt and respond to the other person/people and the tone of the meeting – but considering these kinds of things in advance will probably make the difference between getting what you want from the encounter or being disappointed.
2. Visualise “success”.
Visualisation is very simple: just imagine what success would look and feel like. Does this really work? Yes. Unquestionably successful people like the athlete Usain Bolt use this technique. Bolt stands at the starting blocks and stares at the finishing line. His eyes then come back down the track, sensing the breeze and imagining the feel of the surface under his feet before he settles into his blocks. When the gun fires he’s off, living the visualisation for real, not worrying about his opponents. His preparation makes him a winner.
Translate this idea into what you are about to undertake. What would success look like? How would you feel? How will you run your race? This preparation technique will make a big difference.
3. Consider some ‘what if’ scenarios and how you’d respond.
What are the obvious questions you could be asked? For example, in an interview you’ll probably be asked ‘Why do you want this job?’, and if you’re meeting a potential investor in your startup you’ll likely get ‘Tell me about your company. What makes you sure that this idea will succeed?’. Prepare your answers and rehearse them out loud to yourself, looking in the mirror as you do so. Do you look and sound natural? Also, think about the question(s) you’d really rather not be asked – the worst case scenario. About a failed project or a gap on your CV, perhaps. How would you respond? Even if the topic is very unlikely to come up it’s well worth having a considered response up your sleeve, because if you’re surprised and try to think on the spot you may blurt out something that you’ll come away wishing you hadn’t said, or had phrased differently.
4. Prepare your emotional state.
Your emotional state on entering a room, stepping on stage or approaching a group of people is vitally important. It’s hard to completely control our moods, but you can give yourself the best possible chance of being in a good headspace by giving yourself plenty of time to get to your destination, planning your route/means of transport carefully, and not power walking to your destination. Being slightly or very nearly late, feeling (even if you’re not looking) sweaty, not having your papers and notes to hand and being desperate for the loo is not conducive for a great first impression or meeting. You must be calm and feel fresh, relaxed and ready. Try to empty your mind of all the extraneous stuff that is not important right now. Focus on your performance and intentions and try to leave your ‘emotional baggage’ and domestic concerns outside the door – your plans for dinner can wait an hour or so.
5. Make sure you’re well-fed and watered.
This might seem obvious or unimportant but eating well (eating the right kind of stuff) and being well hydrated (and I don’t mean with caffeine or alcohol) will have a huge effect on your performance. Going into a meeting or interview hungry will affect your sharpness and your ability to concentrate and perform to your best. Likewise for hydration: research shows that even a minor level of dehydration negatively affects brain performance, reducing your reaction and processing speeds. So be sure to plan and prepare your food and drink and their timings around your meeting/day, and carry with you both some water and high energy, healthy snacks like nuts for a quick boost.
Don’t leave all this to chance. Prepare to achieve!