Winning impressions

by Nicole Wong

Mary Pandora Cheung, managing director and founder, Mary Cheung & Associates (International) Ltd

Certain techniques can lead to more effective communication with people we already know, but how can we make a good first impression on strangers? Based on her extensive experience in professional image building with organisations in both the public and private sectors, Mary Pandora Cheung, managing director and founder of Mary Cheung & Associates (International) Ltd, shared her views on social and commercial etiquette in an engaging presentation.

"When we shake hands with someone for the first time, we are reaching out to meet a new opportunity," Ms Cheung said. Therefore, the handshake should be of appropriate strength and accompanied by eye contact. During the exchange of name cards which usually follows, the card should be held so that the printed name and title are towards the other person. "Say your name and mention something special about yourself," Ms Cheung added. "If you do not have a name card with you, make a point of faxing one to your new contact later on. Keep your word on all business occasions: being trustworthy is the number one requirement for successful professionals."

Creating a good impression, however, begins with our attitude and appearance. "Friendly, natural and simple are the keywords in building a professional image," Ms Cheung said. "The real you should be evident and last through different times and trends." A stylish and tidy hairstyle, as well as fresh breath and clean teeth, are essential. Clear skin is desirable in both sexes, while ladies can brighten their complexion with subtle shades of make-up. Business professionals should ensure their suits or dresses fit well and should not wear too much jewellery. A red or yellow tie helps a man to stand out and, for a woman, brighter coloured outfits can liven up the workplace, provided they are appropriate for the company and the person's age and status.

When it comes to more formal lunches or dinners, many of us are uncertain how to behave. Ms Cheung explained that gentlemen are expected to unbutton their jackets when sitting down at the dinner table, and to button them while standing up. Napkins should be folded into a triangle and placed on the lap, then folded into a rectangle and placed on the table when the dinner ends. Bread should be buttered or dipped in olive oil and eaten in separate bites, rather than spread out and buttered on one's palm. She added that holding one's knife and fork while talking is frowned upon; instead, the fork should be placed on top of the knife in the middle of the plate.

Ms Cheung pointed out that the business etiquette adhered to in Hong Kong necessarily varies, partly depending on whether more western or mainland Chinese people are present. "Western professionals value open communication, and common courtesy, while mainland businessmen value gifts and common ground built on similar interests, such as drinking," she said. "There are also differences in the style of communication, depending on which countries or provinces people come from, so make sure you have written agreements for all important business decisions."

  • Successful business communication begins with making the right first impression
  • Introductions are an opportunity to establish initial trust and respect
  • A professional image involves having the right style and appearance for the job
  • Anyone attending more formal occasions should be familiar with the rules of dining etiquette

  • Taken from Career Times 05 August 2005
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