How To Have A Successful First Date

Your last date didn’t work out? Try a different strategy.


By The Blue Ocean Strategy Team

Does the thought of a first date fill you with dread? Does your memory of the last one make you cringe with embarrassment? If so, you’re not alone. Few people find dating simple and straightforward, even (and perhaps especially) in the age of Tinder and Match.com.

The good news is that, with the right strategy, you can avoid some of the more common pitfalls and anxieties. With Valentine’s Day almost upon us, we had some fun and applied the ERRC grid to first dates. Here’s what we came up. See if you agree.

Blue Ocean Strategy’s ERRC grid © Kim & Mauborgne.

Blue Ocean Strategy’s ERRC grid © Kim & Mauborgne.

Don’t overcomplicate things

The first date with someone you know little or nothing about is full of uncertainty. Don’t make things more complicated by trying to arrange the perfect romantic dinner, or planning a whole day out. Instead, keep things short and simple. A cup of coffee in a central location will make it clear fast if your date is someone you would like to spend more time with. And if things go well, the coffee could turn into a lunch or dinner, adding some spontaneity into the mix.

A successful first date needn’t be complicated

A successful first date needn’t be complicated.

Don’t stress unnecessarily

A bit of anxiety is natural on a first date – in fact, it’s half the fun. But you’ll want to eliminate the kind of stress that will make you flustered and your date uncomfortable. Remember, the more relaxed you feel, the more comfortable your date will be around you. One simple trick is to sit at a right angle to your date rather than face them directly. This takes the pressure off trying to fill every pause in the conversation, and you can both do a bit of people-watching instead.

Cut down the texting, and meet in person

The conversation might have started on an app or a website, but it shouldn’t stay there for too long. Texting can certainly give you a sense of another person, but to really get to know each other, you need more than messages on a screen: facial expressions, body language and tone of voice are just as important. So don’t waste time on a virtual relationship – go out there and meet the real person behind the words.

To understand someone, you need to meet them in person.

To understand someone, you need to meet them in person.

Prepare some first date topics

You wouldn’t go for a job interview without preparing in advance, so why should a first date be any different? Think about the sort of questions you could ask, and some interesting answers to the questions that may come your way. Don’t treat the first date like an actual interview, though, or you’ll set alarm bells ringing. For some great first date topics and questions, see this article.

Another way to boost your confidence is to do a bit of ‘power posing’ in advance. This means standing for a few minutes in an assertive posture, hands on hips (think of a superhero), so as to trick the brain into feeling more confident. Just don’t do it on the date itself, or you’ll look ridiculous.

Up your listening game

We all love to talk about ourselves – but don’t assume your date finds you as interesting as you do. In fact, making it all about you sends the wrong signals. On the other hand, you can’t just switch off and leave all the talking to your date – that’s also a recipe for failure. The trick is to listen intelligently and respond appropriately, such as when we summarize a point and ask a follow-up question, e.g., “So, you spend three months in Argentina, how was that?”.

The trick is to listen intelligently and respond appropriately.

The trick is to listen intelligently and respond appropriately.

Create a strong first impression

First impressions count. It only takes a few seconds for someone to form an opinion about you based on your appearance and demeanor. A great way to make a positive first impression is to smile. Smiling is one of the habits of likable people, a sign of happiness and a trainable skill. By smiling more, not only will you start feeling better, you will also project some of that positivity onto those around you. It’s all about those good vibes!

Also, take some time to dress well, but stay true to your usual style, and dress appropriately for the occasion. You wouldn’t turn up to a cafe in a tuxedo, but neither should you turn up to a cocktail party in shorts and t-shirt.

Be true to yourself

Dating in the 21st century can feel like a competition, and perhaps it has always been that way. But too often we measure our worth against those we perceive to be ‘winning’, with the result that we try to imitate and improve on what others are doing instead of finding our own way.

But dating shouldn’t be about winners and losers. It’s about finding someone you connect with and care about; someone who makes you happy and who you can make happy in return. This is only possible when you stay true to yourself and let your authenticity shine through.

Top tip for a first date? Be yourself.

Top tip for a first date? Be yourself.

Complete your successful first date with the right follow-up

So you felt a connection, the conversation flowed and you had lots of things in common. Terrific. Now what? A successful first date is only as good as the follow-up, and this means arranging another meeting. You could do this right away, but it’s probably better not to put someone on the spot.

Instead, why not send a message soon after just to say what a great time you had, and suggest a time and place to meet again. Don’t expect an immediate response, and don’t be impatient or else you’ll seem desperate. Remember, if you went into your first date with a smile, a bit of confidence, and a willingness to listen, then you’ve probably already set yourself apart from the competition.

Follow up a successful first date with a simple text message.

Follow up a successful first date with a simple text message.

Perhaps the most important thing, though, is to remember that success in dating, as in life, doesn’t come handed to you on a plate. If your first date didn’t work out, don’t let it get you down, but learn from the experience, get creative, and draw up a new strategy. Remember, there’s plenty more fish in the sea. In fact, there’s a whole blue ocean out there.

Find out how blue ocean strategy tools and frameworks can help you or your organization make the competition irrelevant.