When you meet a new potential client, colleague, business partner, friend, or love interest, they judge you with in seconds. It’s human nature. We all tend to do what we’ve been taught not to do: we judge a book by it’s cover. This new stranger will see you and make any number of judgments about you, determining within 5-8 seconds, including but not limited to, whether you are:
- Friend or foe
- Attractive or unattractive
- Someone with status, or a ‘loser’
- Intelligent or an idiot
- Someone with authority
In many cases this will happen within the first five seconds of the encounter, and there is a lot of truth to how that old deodorant commercial used to say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Are there instances in which you can do ‘damage control’ for a poor first impression? Sure, but that’s a street you just don’t want to live on.
I’m not going to tell you that there’s some secret trick to keeping people from making snap decisions about you in seconds. There isn’t. You can, however, develop an understanding of how to make this tendency work for you rather than against you.
In most cases, our first impression of people are far more influenced by nonverbal signals than by anything we might say. Depending on whose research you want to believe, nonverbal signals have 3-4 times as much influence as whatever you’re saying.
That being said there are a few definite ways to use your nonverbal behavior to make a great first impression.
- Smile. A genuine smile conveys good will, trust, confidence, and ‘approachability.’ Go here for an article on The Power of a Genuine Smile.
- Attitude. Be sure to adopt an attitude appropriate for your situation. Acting like a wise-cracking gigolo might go over at a costume party where the crowd’s a bit tipsy, but it probably won’t do you any favors in a board room.
- Make eye contact. People who can’t or won’t make eye conact are usually seen as shifty or potentially deceptive at worst, lacking confidence at best. Good eye contact also helps to communicate your energy, trust, openness, and confidence.
- Posture. Status, authority and power are nonverbally conveyed by height and how you take up space. Standing straight, with your chin parallel to the floor, shoulders back, conveys confidence, strength, and competence. See our video on the James Bond Walk here.
- A firm handshake. Don’t try to crush anyone’s fingers, but give a firm handshake with a smile and eye contact. See our article on The Power of a Good Handshake here.
- Lean in just a little. Leaning toward someone slightly when they’re speaking to you shows that you’re engaged and interested. Of course, be mindful of their personal space. Generally, give them 2-3 feet.
- Raise your eyebrows slightly. Throughout the world, this is a sign of recognition and acknowledgement, and helps people see that you ‘get’ what they’re saying.
- Relax. Sometimes, this is easier said than done, but the truth is we tend to make ourselves more nervous than we should be. If I’m nervous, I tell myself ‘Honey Badger don’t care!’ At the end of the day, one client can’t make me rich or poor. Maintain high intentionality, but low attachment to the result.
If you do these things consistently, you’ll have an easier time making a strong personal impact in those critical first few seconds, and have a much better chance of ‘deserving’ the opportunity to connect with the right people.