The human brain processes non-verbal information much faster than verbal communication. Within a couple seconds of meeting someone for the first time, the brain has already assessed a long list of factors about that person (for better or for worse) such as gender, age range, physical attributes, general hygiene, how the individual is dressed, and the level of confidence they display through body posture and facial expression. This information then immediately creates a filter through which the brain will initially process verbal communication coming from that person. You truly only have one chance to make a great first impression!
Now that we are aware of how the brain formulates first impressions, it’s time we up our game in this critical area of communication. So, let’s take a look at some tangible action steps we can take to nail that first impression whether we are speaking in front of a crowd, being introduced to an executive from work, or perhaps meeting that special someone for the first time.
How you dress (your personal presentation) matters! With the advent of “business casual,” we have all but lost the ability to dress appropriately for the office, or anywhere else for that matter. This is one area where it is easy to stand out from the crowd regardless of the event.
TIP: Before you leave the house each morning stand in front of a full-length mirror and ask yourself, does my outfit add or detract from the kind of personal presentation I need to make today? If your answer is it detracts, go back to your closet and rethink your outfit.
The ability to stand tall and show a level of confidence is a rare thing now that everyone is hunched over their smartphones all day. The benefits of good posture go far beyond just improving your look for that first impression, but also contribute to a long list of health benefits.
TIP: The next time you find yourself standing in place for a moment (say waiting in line somewhere) consciously stand tall moving your body weight off of your heels and onto the balls of your feet. Don’t be afraid to even lift your heals off of the ground a little. Focus on lengthening your neck and pushing your chest forward. Hold for a few seconds and then repeat the exercise. Then as the line moves forward, remain conscious of standing tall as you walk forward. Once you make standing tall a habit, it will be a subconscious asset to you and will help you demonstrate confidence when making that first impression.
3. Eye Contact
Making eye contact with the person you are talking with is key to great communication and shows you have enough confidence to fully engage in the conversation.
TIP: If making eye contact while you talk is not a natural habit for you, ask your significant other or a friend to help you practice. Keep your eyes on the person’s face as long as it feels comfortable, glancing away now and then if necessary, but always re-engaging eye contact quickly. Also, make sure your gaze remains on the individual’s face and never drifts downward during the conversation, as this can be distracting to the person you are speaking to.
It’s OK to smile! It represents a level of optimism that is in short supply today especially in the business environment. Be a conscious optimist!
TIP: If you struggle to smile when meeting people, practice a few lines in the mirror while paying attention to your facial expression (I know, this exercise may feel a little weird). The point is to develop the natural habit of smiling when you first meet someone and being the one who sets a positive tone for the conversation.
OK, now for the handshake. If you are like me, there is always that slight germ phobia in the back of my mind when shaking a stranger’s hand. The bad news is that in western culture, it currently is the appropriate way to greet people in business settings (although, this could change with the current focus on social distancing).
TIP: If someone reaches out for a handshake, take their hand with confidence shake firmly and then release quickly. Limp or prolonged handshakes are distracting. Oh, and if you also have a little of that germ phobia I mentioned, carry some antibacterial hand sanitizer and use it once out of sight of the person.
So, there you go. It really does not take much to stand out from the crowd, and now you have a few more practical tools to help you do so. Making that great first impression is well within your reach and has the ability to open professional and personal relationship doors that will pass others by who are not paying attention. So, practice these five simple tips and nail every first impression!
PS: Share with us in the comments below other tips for making a great first impression.