We’ve all been in this unfortunate situation: you’re walking around at work or elsewhere and unexpectedly run into your boss or some other influential person in your life and you’re…completely speechless. You’re caught totally off-guard, your mind goes blank, and you can’t think of a single thing to do or say—and even worse, it’s obvious that you’re in full panic mode, which only makes things worse.

It’s a total nightmare, only you’re not asleep. The only thing left to do after this happens is to just walk away licking your wounds, hoping that you’ll figure out some way to erase this moment from ever having happened—and good luck with that!

Although you can’t magically erase awful past encounters, the good news is that you can do a lot to make sure that they don’t happen again! In fact, we’ll show you how to make a great impression in any encounter—in just a few minutes or less.

Have we got your attention? Great—then keep reading.

Plan in advance.

It may sound silly to plan encounters in advance, but you’ll thank me later when you start making great impressions on everyone you encounter. Each day, while you’re getting ready in the morning, think of a few topics of conversation that you can keep “pre-loaded”—everything from local news to sports or the weather is fair game. A harmless (but funny!) joke or two couldn’t hurt either, as long as you avoid anything offensive. Have a few different pleasant conversation starters “in the can,” so you can pick and choose which you use based on your audience.

As the day progresses, feel free to tailor your conversation starters based on events that occur. We know this might sound weird, but you’d be surprised by how many people take advantage of this strategy to ensure that the only impressions they make are positive ones. Use it and you won’t get caught flat-footed with nothing to say should you run into someone unexpectedly.

Pay attention to your body language.

When you’re seeking to make a great impression on someone, what you say isn’t the only thing that matters—how you say it is just as important. Are you confident, clear, and friendly or are you tentative, awkward, and eager to break contact as soon as possible? Is your voice steady or wavering? Do you stand confident and tall or do you shift nervously and slouch? Do you make the appropriate amount of eye contact—not too much but not too little (some experts say that 5 seconds is a good amount of “eye time” before looking away and returning)—or do you avoid it like a cold?

All of these things make up your social body language, and will factor greatly in the overall impression others have of you during social encounters. So, take some time to practice and make sure your body language is in top shape. Here’s where a trusted friend or family member can help you with some valuable practice. Or, try using a mirror to brush up on your body language skills, giving yourself honest feedback. Trust us, this is time well spent.

Present yourself as a polished package.

With some great conversation starters and impeccable body language, you’re well on your way to making great impressions on others. But there are a few more things that factor into your “overall impression package.” This includes the extras—your clothes and grooming.

Always be mindful of the extras when you step out of your front door—you never know who you’ll run into and no one ever got upset that they made too good of an impression by spending a little extra time dressing well and minding all the details of their grooming routine. This is especially true when you’re expecting to run into people that you really want to make a good impression on—like at work or on interviews.

We know, in a perfect world it wouldn’t matter what you wear or how you look, but it’s not a perfect world and we all judge books by their covers, so make sure you’re always mindful of the extras if you want to make a good impression.

Don't forget the secret ingredient.

Ok, so your conversation game is tight, you’ve been working on your body language, and your clothes and grooming are sharp—are you totally ready to make great impressions no matter what situations you encounter? Not so fast—you’re close, but there’s one more “secret ingredient” that we hope is not so secret to you when you’re looking to make good impressions—be a good listener!

The truth is, this is an absolutely essential component if you’re looking to make a great first impression. In fact, utilizing the other strategies listed here without deploying good listening skills may completely backfire and make you seem phony, self-absorbed, or artificial.

Good listening skills just takes a little practice. When talking with other people, really work to pay attention to what they’re saying. Show interest in a conversation by nodding and using appropriate facial expressions based on what’s being said (don’t smile and laugh if someone’s telling you about their cat’s broken leg!). You’ll earn extra bonus interest points if you ask questions about what they’re saying. Even better? Turn the focus of the conversation on what the other person is talking about. Who doesn’t feel special when their interests are placed at the center of attention? Bottom line: great listeners make great impressions and you can count on people looking forward to interacting with you again.

You can start utilizing the strategies mentioned here immediately, and if you do it won’t take a lot of time to start making great impressions. In fact, even quick encounters that last just a few seconds or minutes will become easy opportunities to make positive, lasting impressions!