Personal First Impressions

A Continuing-Education Series from Chalk & Vemilion Fine Arts, Inc.


Before you can sell anything from your gallery, you often have to sell yourself.

Customers may visit your gallery because of your advertising, your window display, or because someone recommended you, but they ultimately will decide to purchase something because of a combination of factors. Having the right product at the right price is, of course, vitally important. Of equal importance is the customer's impression of you and their decision that you are a person with whom they want to do business. This decision is often made within the first 30 seconds that they walk into your gallery and meet you for the first time.

Our recommendations here are borrowed liberally from a book called "Put Your Best Foot Forward", an excellent resource and self-analysis tool about what kind of impression you create, and how to make some improvements. It is interesting to read, includes relevant research, and is peppered with salient and humorous quotes and real-life examples.

When considering what kind of impression you want to project, people often focus on clothing or their physical appearance. Going beyond that, the book identifies 5 key components that work "like magic" and that can and should be used by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

1. Eye contact: Maintaining good eye contact will project that you are friendly and trustworthy. But what's "good"? Not a bug-eyed stare or a phony "sincere furrowed brow look," but to look at a person as if you know and like them, to look at them as you speak and as you listen.

2. Smiling: We all like friendly people, and eye contact and smiling convey interest, friendliness, and attraction. A smile communicates positive qualities all by itself. You don't have to smile as if you're auditioning for a toothpaste commercial, just make it genuine. A smile used with the words "Hello" and "Thank you" seems obvious but is incredibly rare in the retail world today.

3. Handshake: A handshake represents a unique opportunity to create a physical aspect to the impression you create. A good handshake shows a person to be open, confident, sincere, and friendly. Once again, what's a good handshake? General consensus around here is: a) you don't have to overdo it and crush the other person's hand - firm and comfortable is better. Women, don't offer your hand with your palm facing the floor (sorry, no one is going to kiss it). Your thumb should face upwards and your palm should connect with the other person's palm as you enclose their whole hand with your fingers. Men, when shaking a woman's hand, donÕt just take their fingers - shake their whole hand. The limp fish handshake can undo any other positive-attitude projections you are trying to make. If you think all of the above is stating the obvious, you haven't been on the receiving end of a bad handshake lately.

4. Posture: A salesperson's posture and approach to a customer can say "I'm happy you're here and ready to help you", or "How many hours till I can go home?" Good (or bad) posture can be seen from across the room, and can make you look taller, make your outfit look better, and create an aura of dignity, confidence, and control. It involves how you use your body when you stand, sit, and walk. In general, think about head up, shoulders back - not in a military style, but more like a model or a dancer, a fluid movement that looks relaxed but self-confident.

5. Enthusiasm: The authors of "Put Your Best Foot Forward" point out two people who have used enthusiasm well - John Madden, who probably did not achieve his great popularity as a sport commentator on his good looks, and Richard Simmons, a "short, squeaky-voiced exercise phenomenon" who would not be where he is today if he was dull and lifeless. Enthusiasm comes from the enjoyment of what you do, and when that is genuine, it creates excitement and energy which is positive, uplifting, and fun!

On the flip side of things you should do to create a good impression are things you should not do. Offensive physical characteristics such as bad hygiene (bad breath, dirty hair/fingernails), tasteless behavior or inappropriate language (profanity, sarcasm), even bad grammar are all taboo. In addition, haughty behavior and a know-it-all, What-are-YOU-doing here attitude are what people are afraid they will encounter in art galleries - make sure they won't find that in your gallery.

None of this is rocket-science and none of this is new, but when is the last time you and your staff sat down and took a good look at how you are presenting yourselves? Think about how it would make you feel if, the next time you entered a nice store, a salesperson greeted you with a smile, and handshake, and a welcoming attitude? It would make me feel important, and that makes me want to stay, and the longer I stay, the better the chances are that I'll see something I like, and if I see something I like, I'll probably... Well, you get the picture. Good luck!

If you are interested in this book, it's "Put Your Best Foot Forward" by Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, Ph.D. and Mark Mazzarella, Scribner, copyright 2000

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