Elevate your Success with Six Tips to Make a Killer First Impression
First Impressions are Formed Within Seconds
Research shows that first impressions are formed within seconds of seeing somebody–before we even speak–these impressions are lasting. If the impression is good, it has a halo effect, and any performance after this is enhanced by the initial positive perception of the person. If the first impression is bad, any performance after this, no matter how good, is tainted with the initial perception.
This knowledge is compelling as it means that we can create a better impression, by paying attention to how we look and act as soon as we approach our destination. We should focus more on this, instead of what we’re going to say. Introverts rejoice!
To learn more about the importance of first impressions read this post: First Impressions, Your split second Opportunity for Success.
First Impressions and Nonverbal Communication
What are you Communicating Nonverbally?
People create their first impression of you through the signals you send nonverbally–facial expressions, gait, stance, posture, gestures, outward aspect (clothing, jewellery, glasses, hair, make-up, tattoos, etc.) and sometimes, your vocal quality. Even your car and the way that you drive it, if seen, will communicate some message that will form part of that first impression.
If you know you’re going to meet new people who could potentially impact your life, prospective employers, for example, start to pay attention to your appearance and actions from the moment you approach your destination. Work on improving your first impression for more positive outcomes.
Take a moment right now, to re-evaluate how you may be coming across to people–what are your body, expressions, actions and outward aspect communicating to people? Having this awareness and carefully observing yourself during these interactions, is the first step in improving your first impression–small steps that can have a significant impact on your success.
Nonverbal Communication and Body Language
Personal presentation is about the way you come across, nonverbally, to others. It covers your outward aspect, body language, expressions, gestures and vocal quality.
Let’s hone in on some of these with six nonverbal communication tips, essential for creating a killer first impression.
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What you Wear, how you Look
A good rule to follow, in a professional context, is ‘one step up’ (dressing one step above your client). This shows nonverbal respect–you are worth dressing up for; however I’m still on your level. Dressing more than one step up can make your client feel less of a connection to you–as if you’re on entirely different levels. We know that connection is an important part of influence.
Make sure you look professional in the work that you do–wear formal or casual business attire, dependent on your clientele–be clean, neat and tidy and cover tattoos.
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Via Stance and Posture
Confidence forms a large part of the creation of a first impression. It’s important because confidence levels are translated as competence levels. If you come across as lacking in confidence in the words that you speak, then why should anyone buy into you?
Confidence–and competence–come across nonverbally through the way you hold your body. Show confidence through an upright posture, with shoulders low and back; arms relaxed at your sides (ready to jump into action as you start to talk); forehead, chin and chest facing up and out just slightly); legs around shoulder width apart.
Get used to this as your usual stance. Practise it until it feels natural. Not only will people perceive you as confident–and competent–but even more important is the effect it will have on you, you’ll begin to feel more confident too!
Each time you find yourself slouching, or crossing your arms or legs over your body, correct yourself. Before long you’ll adopt it as your natural stance, along with improved self-confidence.
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Touch is important because it helps to create a connection. Why? Because oxytocin, the hormone of connection and bonding is released, in both parties, when we touch somebody.
There’s no denying that touch is a touchy subject and many forms of touch are inappropriate in a work setting. A handshake–or a high-five are appropriate means of touch that shouldn’t get you in trouble, although a high-five in some work contexts may seem a little odd.
It’s important to realise that the handshake isn’t universal, it’s a cultural gesture, a reflection of the culture or society in which we grew up. Many cultures prefer other types of gesture as their primary means of greeting, for example, an abrazo–a hug or embrace used in Spain and Latin America, or even a bow–used in some Asian countries. Therefore, contrary to popular misconceptions, the handshake says nothing about a person’s confidence or power–and not everybody appreciates it.
It’s important not to create feelings of discomfort as you meet somebody, so consider the situation and circumstances before you assume a handshake and approach with an outstretched arm.
If a handshake feels appropriate, make it feel good. It’s often the first time you’re touching somebody, so it’s essential that it’s a good one.
What Makes a Good Handshake?
Straight- no twisting or turning power plays!
Make eye contact.
Dry–if you’re holding a drink, hold it with a serviette or wipe your hands first.
Mirror the pressure you receive (show nonverbal respect).
Don’t grimace if you don’t like the handshake you received. Remember, you’re trying to create a good impression through feelings of comfort and by showing nonverbal respect.
That last point leads beautifully into the next tip.
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Initial positive expressions–and gestures–of greeting or acknowledgement are incredibly important and influential in forming a positive first impression. Why? Because they help to establish trust–they are ‘friend signals’.
What better friend signal than a smile? It’s essential to create a great impression and tells your client, interviewer or colleague, "I’m happy to see you".
There is a difference between a polite smile and a genuine smile, which is a whole new topic for another post. In a nutshell, a genuine smile is a universal gesture, innate within everybody, regardless of culture. It’s seen in the eyes as well as the mouth, as the cheek muscles are activated, pushing up into the eyes. A polite smile, on the other hand, is seen only in the mouth.
It’s a genuine smile you should be aiming for. It’s hard to fake, but there are ways to do it. The simplest is to think of a happy thought or moment. A polite smile will bridge the gap if you're struggling with a genuine smile–it’s far better than a grimace!
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Anecdotally, even more powerful than the smile is an eyebrow flash–a quick rise of the eyebrows.
Our eyes, and our pupils, naturally dilate when we see something or someone we like or when we’re mentally engaged. Therefore, a quick eyebrow flash, nonverbally communicates, "I’m happy to see you!".
The eyebrow flash is possibly something you already do when you acknowledge someone. Give yourself a body language audit by paying attention to your behaviours. Learn what you do and in which contexts, to see where you can improve.
Team your smile and handshake with an eyebrow flash. And while you’re in the moment, why not go a step further and add a nod…
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Studies show that people who nod, a single nod, to acknowledge their audience or on meeting someone are rated higher in overall performance. It’s a sign of respect in the same way a bow is.
It can occur with negative facial expressions, again as an acknowledgement, but when you team it with positive nonverbal communication signals like a smile, eyebrow flash and handshake, you amplify the friend signals and get yourself off to a great start.
Always practise in a safe environment first. Practise one expression or gesture at a time until it feels natural. Use a mirror and practise on people you know well, before combining all these signals in real life situations. I don’t want you to end up looking or feeling awkward or robotic.
Handshake, Genuine Smile and Eyebrow Flash
Take a look at the following images of people shaking hands. Can you see and feel the difference? Which would make you feel more comfortable?
The third image, showing the handshake with the genuine smile and slight eyebrow flash, creates a higher comfort level and a better first impression–can you see and feel the difference?
Take the time to consider the impression you’re making on others and work towards making small improvements that will go a long way. And do remember, as well as improving the way you’ll be perceived, you’ll also be improving the way you feel about yourself.