The 12 x 12 x 12 rule Brian Hilliardcommunication, professionalism, networking Perception is reality. How many times have you heard that before? If you're like me, enough to know that the manner in which you're perceived really does affect the level of communication you have with other people. As a matter of fact, a survey conducted by Communication Briefings found that 82 percent of the respondents felt the manner in which a person answers the phone greatly impacts the perception they had of that company. Eighty-two percent! And the same holds true in a networking situation, especially when you're meeting someone for the first time. Their initial perception of you is going to form the basis of their "first impression." So, what can an active, networking mortgage professional do to manage the perception that others may have? Easy ... just remember the "12 x 12 x 12" rule. This rule asks the following three questions: •How do you look from 12 feet away? •How do you look from 12 inches away? •What are the first 12 words out of your mouth? How do you look from 12 feet away? One of the first questions people ask themselves, long before they consciously begin to form an opinion, is so basic it often surprises people when I tell them: Do you look the part? In other words, as you approach the person you're about to meet, theyre looking at your shoes, your shirt, your jacket, and are subconsciously asking themselves if you "look like" you belong. If you ever find yourself attending a networking event where youre not sure what to wear, I'd recommend dressing up half a notch more than what you think everyone else is going to be wearing. That might mean putting on a jacket (and possibly a tie) for men, and a business suit for women. Either way, this will give you that extra little edge when meeting someone for the first time, because you never know who you'll run into while networking. How do you look from 12 inches away? After passing the test from 12 feet away, you're now being viewed from the first 12 inches, where people are sizing up your body language. Do you look excited? Do you look bored? Are you happy to be there? These questions, and many more, are racing through that person's head before you've said one word. I read a survey that said our body language accounts for more than 80 percent of communication during one-on-one discussions, so it stands to reason that during the first 12 inches, people are "hearing" what you say loud and clear. So, if we know people are "listening" to our body language, let's make sure we're communicating the right message. The first thing to do is initiate eye contact. This is a signal to the other person that you're about to engage them in conversation, and puts that person at ease. Another thing to remember when "communicating" with someone in the first 12 inches is to smile. Research has shown that when meeting someone for the first time, smiling is one of the single most powerful communication tools you have, so be sure to use it. What are the first 12 words out of your mouth? You've gotten past the first 12 feet and the first 12 inches, and now you've shaken hands and introduced yourself. What do you say next? When I'm networking, the first question people usually ask me is, "What do you do?" and keeping my first 12 words in mind, I usually reply with something like this, "I'm a motivational speaker who shows people how to network like a pro." I've found this gives a little twist to that age-old networking question and creates an interest in me right away. Now you'll notice that my answer was actually a little longer than 12 words, but that's not really the point. The thing to remember is after looking the part with a nice jacket (first 12 feet), and initiating eye contact with a warm smile (first 12 inches), by the time I get to the first 12 words (or 13 in this case), I've already created a positive first impression of myself in the mind of that other individual. Here's a recommendation: Take the next 10 minutes and think about what your first 12 words will be when you meet someone new. Hint: It's not, "My name is Jim Smith and I'm a mortgage broker." (Yawn.) The bottom line As a mortgage professional, you're facilitating the transaction of the largest personal asset most people have: their home. And just as you wouldn't use the services of a doctor you perceived to be unkempt, disorganized and generally "undoctorly," the same is true for people looking to do business with you. How they perceive youespecially during your first interactionwill, to a large part, determine if you're going to get their business. And with the 12 x 12 x 12 rule firmly in place, you'll come across as a sharp, engaging, personable mortgage professional from the moment they lay eyes on you. Brian Hilliard is a motivational speaker and author of the book, "Networking Like a Pro!" He may be reached at (404) 434-2826, [email protected] or visit www.agitoconsulting.com.