5 Steps to Make a Great First Impression

HandshakeSeven seconds.

According to researchers at New York University and Harvard, that’s how long we get when we’re making a first impression. Think about that for a second (or seven): with every prospective client we want to make, every job interview we have, and every personal relationship we start, we’re only allowed a brief moment to make a positive connection.

Perhaps that’s indicative of life as we know it in 2013. Attention spans are shorter and the need for immediacy is higher.

Stranger still, the crucial moments have more to do with non-verbal cues than verbal ones. Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, says that non-verbal communication is four times more powerful than verbal. 

Seeing as how we don’t all have the intuition required for every interaction in life, I’m going to give you a few basic guidelines on how to get started.

  1. Eye contact says it all! Your first interaction should involve direct eye contact. Looking directly into the eyes of another person builds an unspoken respect and trust, and indicates your interest and openness to that relationship. Don’t forget to raise those eyebrows slightly now and again: it’s the universal sign of recognition.
  2. Flash that smile. A good smile (don’t forget to brush those teeth) says a lot about you. The right amount of cheek raising grin can show that you’re friendly and approachable. Keep it simple —nobody wants to see your molars.
  3. Stop slouching, Quasimodo. No matter how tall you might be, standing straight with your shoulders back exudes confidence and personal power. The more you slouch the less empowering you become.
  4. Wipe off those sweaty palms; it’s time for a handshake. A single, firm handshake can do more to build rapport than anything else. Find a safe place in-between the “dead fish” and “I can squeeze water from a rock” and use that. Keep it concise and short. Nothing says weirdo like a 30 second sweaty hand grip. Oh, and don’t even think of adding your off hand to this party.
  5. No need to shout. Keep a safe speaking distance, approximately two feet away, while making conversation. Leaning forward from this position shows that you’re interested in what’s being said. Remember personal space! If you can taste what they had for lunch by smelling their breath, you’re too close.

With all of that being said, there are still a few additions that can be done to reinforce your five steps. First, be on time; especially if you’ve planned this interaction. There’s nothing worse than running late when it’s the very first time you’re meeting someone. Remember to bet on traffic delays, having to clean cat hair off the clothes you just laid out or even the occasional lost taxi driver. For those parents out there, have a back-up plan when your keys go missing in the toilet. Presentation is everything and being early is the first step in creating a lasting impression.

Next, people know exactly who you are by the first few words that come out of your mouth. A positive greeting that exudes excitement might show how passionate you are about the outcome of the interaction, whereas nervousness or complaining about your surroundings might indicate you aren’t confident or at ease with the situation.

And finally, be on the same level. If you’re using words that people need a dictionary or thesaurus for, while you may sound intelligent, they’re going to lose interest. Being well read and articulate is important, but if others don’t understand what you’re saying it’s wasted effort.

For example: While I hope my sentences in this story carry a certain breviloquence, and I don’t mean to bloviate, I believe my words sound quite mellisonant. Obnoxious, right?

Above all, be honest about who you are and what you expect. Every single interaction could be life changing, so give it your best shot by starting off on the right foot.

Or was it the left? Those seven seconds sure went quickly.


Photo courtesy of baggyjumper.