Business Basics, Lest We Forget!

by Kitty Ambers, COO, AVYSTPhoto of Handshake with words "Back to Basics"

Several years ago, I had a wonderful week working with a dynamic group of new producers. I facilitated the Certified Professional Insurance Agent (CPIA) designation program as part of an insurance company’s 3-week producer training curriculum, and this was the first week.

I was extremely impressed with the caliber, background, and interest in learning by the class as a whole. This group was a true breath of fresh air in our industry. While I always am challenged by how a seminar might evolve, wondering if I’m ever truly prepared for everything that could happen, I am often surprised at how many times we take the “basics” for granted. The basics were a lot of what this group was concerned about mastering as new sales producers.

Helping new sales agents get comfortable with greeting people and making small talk is vital to their success. Unfortunately, too often, we assume because they are hired as “salespeople” they’ve mastered these interpersonal relations skills. Not so fast, my friend!

We have somewhere between 7 – 17 seconds to make the first impression. We must always be prepared and use this time wisely. First noticed is skin color, age, and sex – things that we really can’t do anything about! Next noticed, however, is eye contact, handshake, appearance, and posture. These we can certainly control.

  • If shy, challenge yourself to make eye contact and practice everywhere you go.
  • The handshake is the only really appropriate physical contact in the business world today. The person who has the confidence to extend their hand first earns a measure of control. Be sure to capture it when you can! Men and women are equals in this.
  • Learn what it means to “look the part”. Knowing what “business attire”, “business casual”, and “casual” means for the business world will certainly keep your appearance appropriate in any situation.
  • Work to present an air of confidence, but not cockiness. This entails the smile, the eye contact, the posture, the dress – basically the whole visual package and how you occupy your personal space.

After the first few seconds when all of the visual is being taken in, it’s time to speak. Be sure to have something to say! Remember to delay speaking your name until several seconds into the greeting so that it’s more likely to be remembered. Say your name too early and the other person’s too busy with all the visual analysis going on to catch it.

Photo of 2 men mirroring their body language“Mirroring” is a huge people-skill to learn. It takes practice to master it. Mirroring is basically reflecting the style and mannerisms of the other person – not mimic, reflect. If they’re quiet and reserved and you happen to be boisterous by nature, be a bit quieter and more reserved, for example.

One of the biggest challenges for people who are very businesslike, is the art of small talk. Whether you are the person doing the approaching, or someone approaches you at a function, remember to find ways to focus on the other person. Get them talking – remember that people love to talk about themselves so you can always ask them questions to get conversation started. Cliches are actually okay as conversation starters. For example, it’s okay to comment on the weather. If you’re challenged with this, take some time to think of some good “openers” and commit them to memory before your next big networking event.

A book that I’ve found helpful with these business basics is entitled “The First Five Minutes – How to Make a Great First Impression in Any Business Situation” by Mary Mitchell, president of Uncommon Courtesies.  Success in anything is in the preparation and practice! Sometimes, we just choose not to invest time in preparation and as a result, cheat ourselves!

In Michael Jordan’s memoir, I Can’t Accept Not Trying, he states “the minute you move away from the basics, the bottom falls out of your game.” I hope this reminder to stay focused on the “basics” helps you continue to improve your game!




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