First impressions have a huge impact on success. What are you Communicating?

First Impressions are formed within seconds of seeing somebody- before we speak!

Research shows that first impressions are formed within seconds of seeing somebody (before we even speak), and these impressions are lasting. If the impression is a good one 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 a bad one, any performance after this (no matter how good) is tainted with the initial perception. 

This knowledge is really powerful as it means that we can get higher ratings, just 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! 

Focus on You

Our first impressions are formed through the messages we communicate nonverbally- facial expressions, the way we walk,  stance,  gestures, ‘ornaments’ (clothing, jewellery, glasses, hair, make-up, tattoos, etc). Even the car and the way that we drive when we approach, if seen, will communicate some kind of message that will form part of the first impression. 

Start to pay attention to your appearance and actions from the moment you approach your destination and work on improving your first impression for more effective results. Take a moment right now, to re-evaluate how you may be coming across to people- what are your body, expressions, actions and ornaments 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 huge impact on your success. 

Here are some basic tips for you to consider as you start to work on improving your first impression. 

Personal Presentation

A good rule to follow 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 totally different levels.  

Make sure you always look professional (in a work context)- wear formal or casual business attire, dependent on clientele- be clean, neat and tidy and cover tattoos.


Confidence is a large part of the first impression. It comes across nonverbally through the way we hold our body. The ‘launch stance’ is a confidence stance that isn’t socially aggressive- practice it until it becomes your own natural stance. Not only will people perceive you as confident, 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 an improved self confidence.

Launch Stance

  • Shoulders- low and back 
  • Arms- open and loose 
  • Forehead, chin and chest- facing up and out
  • Legs slightly apart

Good Handshake

A good handshake is worth 3 hours of rapport building time, due to the release of Oxytocin (a powerful opioid, nicknamed the ‘cuddle hormone’)- through touch. 

Having said that, 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. Some cultures prefer other types of gesture as their primary means of greeting through touch, for example an abrazo- a hug or embrace used in Spain and Latin America, or even a bow. Therefore, contrary to popular misconceptions, the handshake says nothing about a persons 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 is appropriate, make it feel good. It’s usually the first time you’re touching somebody so it’s important that it’s a good one!  

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.

Gestures and Expressions

Initial expressions and gestures of greeting or acknowledgement are incredibly important and powerful in forming a positive first impression. Here are a few of the basics:


A smile is an essential part of a first impression and tells the client, "I’m happy to see you". There is a difference between a polite smile and a genuine smile- which is a whole new topic that we'll cover in a later post. A genuine smile is 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. 

Eyebrow Flash

Even more powerful than the smile is an eyebrow flash (quick eyebrow raise). Our eyes (as well as pupils) naturally dilate when we see something or someone we like- therefore, a quick eyebrow flash (nonverbally) says, "I’m happy to see you!".


Studies show that people who nod (single nod) to acknowledge their audience or on meeting someone are rated higher in terms of overall performance. It’s a sign of respect (in the same way a bow is). It would normally take place with a handshake, smile or even an eyebrow flash.

Putting it all together

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 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- win-win! 

Get my alCOM.y's free infographic on First Impression Essentials

Sophie ZadehComment