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A Simple Trick to Make a Powerful Last Impression

A Simple Trick to Make a Powerful Last Impression

When we meet someone for the first time, we make split-second decisions as to whether we find the person intelligent, likable, or trustworthy. So, making a good first impression is important.

But the last impression is equally critical.

Here’s a simple trick you can use to make a powerful and memorable final impression.

In psychological or neurological terms the tendency to remember first and last impressions is called the “primacy/recency effect.” In short, our brains tend to remember the first item (primacy) and last item (recency) in a series.

For example, if Dedee asks me to stop at the store and pick up milk, bread, fruit, chicken, and potatoes, I’ll likely come home with milk, potatoes, and beef jerky (beef jerky is never on the list but always makes it home somehow).

The next time you go on an interview or a sales presentation or even a first date, you might consider using use the primacy/recency effect to your advantage. It starts by deciding in advance the kind of first and last impression you’d like to make.

The Columbo Technique

One way in which you can leave someone with a powerful last impression is to use what I call, “the Columbo Technique.” It’s named after the lovable yet shrewd TV detective from the 1970s.

Lieutenant Frank Columbo was played by the late, great Peter Falk. For those of you too young to remember the series, Peter Falk also played the grandfather who read the book to his grandson in The Princess Bride.

Columbo was friendly, disheveled, and tended to ramble as he spoke. He always wore a rumpled trench coat and smoked a cigar. He was unassuming and appeared almost absent-minded as he questioned a murder suspect. Yet his seemingly random line of questioning was the process by which he built an airtight case against the suspect.

At the conclusion of every interview, he did something unique: he’d thank the suspect profusely, step toward the door, stop, and then turn back, and say, “Oh, just one more thing.” Then he’d ask one last question, a particularly damning question that let the suspect know that Lieutenant Columbo was onto him.

Here’s a classic scene from the series that demonstrates the Columbo Technique. Actually, he does it twice in this clip: once at the 2-minute mark and then again 3:15 into the clip.

Like every form of good communication, sincerity is critical. It cannot be contrived. The goal is simply to make a strong, memorable point, not to manipulate someone.

The process is simple:

  1. Hold back a critical piece of information and reserve it for the end of the meeting.
  2. Right before you part company, share the information or ask a question.
  3. Enjoy the response you receive.
Here are a few examples of this technique in various professional situations.

A Sales Call

You’ve made your presentation. You’ve talked about next steps. You’ve shaken hands and perhaps even said farewell. Then:

“By the way, did I mention that 79% of all of our clients renew their advertising schedules with us after the first campaign? The industry average is just 47%. We’re very proud to have engendered that kind of success rate at our company. Thanks again.”

A Job Interview

As you leave the employer’s office, stop and say:

“Oh, one last thing, Mr. Stevens…that marketing project that I mentioned earlier, the one in which our group increased our client’s profitability so dramatically…I was honored to have been named the Most Valuable Player by my team members for coming up with the big idea. It was one of the proudest moments of my career, given how strong each person is on that marketing team. Thanks again for your time.”

A Meeting with an Employee

This is also a powerful way to end a meeting with one of your employees.

I’ve written previously about how vital it is for you as a leader to praise your employees often. It’s particularly powerful to commend someone on your team at the very end of a meeting.

Earlier this week, I concluded a planning session with one of my employees this way:

“One last thing. You know what I really like about working with you? All I need to do is give you a clear idea of what the end result of this project should look like and then you accomplish all of the details accordingly. I don’t have to go through each individual task that needs to be done. You see the end result and then get it done. It is a huge help to me. I want you to know how much I appreciate you being so thorough in your work.”

It’s a powerful way to encourage someone on your team. And the fact that it occurs at the end of the meeting assures that she walks away feeling great.

One Final Thought

This technique works equally well in personal situations.

My friend Robert Fowler has made the last impression an art form.

I first met Robert when he was the Director of Sports Marketing for KPLR-TV which, at the time, carried all of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball games. He used to call me and say, “Greg, I’ve got great seats right behind home plate for tonight’s game. If you want them, they’re yours.”

I’ll never forgive him for quitting that job.

These days, Robert is the CEO of a very successful mergers & acquisitions firm based in St. Louis.

Each time Robert and I get together for lunch, he makes it a point to end our lunch by saying something kind to me. It happened just a few weeks ago. We paid the waitress and walked out the door into the street. I started toward my car, but he stopped me. “Greg…I’ve been reading your blog. I really like it. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if you published a book one day. Keep writing, would you?”

It didn’t matter if his assessment was accurate or not. The effect on me was profound.

As King Solomon wrote centuries ago, “A word rightly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”

Saying the right thing at the right time can mean the difference between one-in-a-million and just one-in-the-crowd.

Questions: The Columbo Technique is just one way to leave a strong last impression. How do you do go about it? How have you seen others do it. Share your experiences in the comments below.Photo Credit: Peter Falk Richard Kiley – Colombo 1974 – Public Domain


  1. Chris

    Excellent post, both as a valuable lesson and for the Peter Faulk reference! I may have to make this blog mandatory (or at least STRONGLY ENCOURAGED) reading for my classes at Bradley. And wait till they get to meet the author!

    • Greg Lhamon

      Thanks, Chris. Can’t wait to speak to one or two of your classes this year.

  2. deb matthews

    Another good blog post, Greg! After reading it, I realized I do “the recency thing” like this (obviously it must be a genuine gesture because it took your article to make me realize I even DO it) but here it is:
    During the “getting to know you” part of the conversation, I take notice of something the other person and I have in common (however large or small). Sometimes I’ll point it out at that moment. Sometimes I just make a mental note…but I always go back to it at the end of our conversation. Seems to “link us together”. We’ve bonded.

    • Greg Lhamon

      That’s tremendous, Deb! I can vouch for the fact that you do this regularly…and it is tremendously encouraging. Good tip!


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