You’re bound to have heard the expression “first impressions count.” And it’s true. Humans are hardwired to make snap judgements – it’s an evolutionary instinct. Early man lived in a much more physically threatening world where it was vital to be able to quickly work out whether a stranger was a friend or foe.
And while first impressions these days are likely to be made in less ‘life or death’ situations, there are times when it’s important for people to think the best of us. Which means we need to work with that tendency to jump to conclusions rather than work against it.
So whether you’re off to an interview, you’re the keynote speaker at an event or you’ve got a first date lined up, remember good communication is vital when it comes to making a powerful first impression.When we say good communication, we’re not just talking about the words you use. There are plenty of nonverbal cues that your audience will pick up on before you even start speaking. Let’s run through a few of the best ways to get off on the right foot… before you even open your mouth.
Consider how you're showing up physically
Much is said about the importance of physical cues when we walk into a room. The way we walk up to the podium, for example, or even welcome someone to our home.
Make sure you keep the following in mind if you want to make a powerful first impression.
A confident posture - keep your shoulders back and relaxed, increasing the distance between your ears and shoulders. Hunching can make you look under confident or disinterested.
A firm handshake - Think of a handshake as a physical metaphor for how much you want something. You don’t want to be timid and distant but equally you don’t want to be grabby and slightly desperate. Instead go for enthusiastic and authoritative, showing that you are grounded and know what you want.
Direct eye contact - Eyes are the window to the soul, as they say; they show we’re alive, they show when we’re upset or happy and when we’re being honest. By making direct eye contact with others we show a wish to connect at a deeper level, we foster trust and allow people to see what’s going on inside us.
Take note of where your energy is directed
If you watch speakers on stage or even on TED talks you’ll have noticed that the best ones radiate charisma and energy. This usually means their bodies are open and responsive. Sometimes this is about being relaxed and fluid in terms of their movements, and at other times it is about taking a powerful position by opening the chest and widening their arms. This creates a ‘power position’ that helps them to feel and portray confidence, and also that directs their energy straight into the audience, solidifying their words and increasing the impact of their message.
Remember these ideas when you stand up to speak. Whether your body is relaxed and open or powerful and held, your energy will tell a story and it is important to make sure your energy is directed out to your audience. If your shoulders are slumped and you’re looking at the floor, that is where your energy is going. Direct it towards the person you’re trying to make an impression on instead.
Do one thing at a time
If you walk into the room carrying a pile of papers, shrugging your coat off while sipping from a bottle of water, you’re telling the person you are meeting that you are not focussed. You are also giving the impression that you are possibly a bit all over the place, and could drop a ball.
So instead, before you enter the space, check yourself, smooth down your clothes, take a deep breath and give yourself the best possible chance of a great first impression. Doing one thing at once shows that you respect your own process, and give yourself the time and space you need to be your best.
Create a space that people want to share with you
A large part of making a good first impression is about giving the impression you’re open and want to share yourself with others, that you are happy to welcome them into your world and into your story.
To do this successfully you’ll need to create a space that others want to come into. If you are nervous or unsettled, if you have a negative or self defeating refrain running through your head, then the space and energy you will be creating is unlikely to be that warm and welcoming. So if you are going into a new situation, try and do a mental check and refresh if needed before you enter, making sure that you've dispensed with any lurking weeds or negative thoughts, and replace those with positive thoughts, of excitement, anticipation, warmth. In keeping with the metaphor, replace the weeds with flowers, so that the space you are inhabiting is pretty, bright and friendly. If you are not sure what to do, you can try smiling as you enter and see what happens.
Think about what you want from the situation
Your attitude as you enter a setting - whether it’s a conference room or a restaurant where you’re meeting a first date - can set you up for success or do the opposite. You need to be charged with positive intention, which will inform everything from the way you hold yourself to the way you smile and even the subconscious vibe you give off.
Before you enter the room, connect with your inner drive, your goals. The thing that’s making you want to do what you’re about to do. Picture yourself enjoying a positive outcome, take charge of what comes next. Take control of the nerves - of your inner chimp (see below) - and above all trust yourself to do the right thing.
Tune into your human brain rather than your chimp brain
Have you come across the Chimp Paradox? (If not, it’s worth a read!) In it, Professor Steve Peters talks about the two competing forces in our brains, naming them our human brain and our inner chimp. He explains that the human brain acts rationally based on facts while the chimp makes decisions based only on emotion.
If we enter a room with our chimp brain engaged, we will most likely act and react based on instinct, on nerves and fear. If, on the other hand, we can settle our chimp and engage with our human brains, then we can make sure to act in a rational way that creates a much more positive first impression.
If you believe, you will succeed
Used correctly, affirmations can be a powerful way to create new habits or beliefs. In the case of an interview or speech, for example, you can use an affirmation to make sure you will do your very best: “I have a lot to offer others” or “I am calm, confident and in control”.
There’s science behind it too. Repeating a phrase daily over an extended period of time actually helps the brain to build new synapses and pathways, fostering new beliefs. These beliefs can change our actions which in turn change the results we see.
If you need to make a good first impression, it can be as simple as telling yourself you will. It’s about conditioning your own brain.
If you want to make a good first impression, try to ensure that you’re well prepared and a feeling your best. Go through the points above and practice things like posture and eye contact so that it becomes natural.
That way when it comes to those important moments when your first impression really counts, you’re ready and can approach it with genuinely natural confidence.
After that? Well then it’s all about the verbal communication... but that’s a whole different blog post!
Why do some people make communication look so easy? Why do we decide we’re going to listen to some speakers before they even open their mouths? Why do we listen, captivated, as they talk? And can we learn from what they do?
In 'The Connection Book', our founder Emma Serlin shares simple, no nonsense tools for better communication that can be put into practice in as little as five minutes
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