Your entire life you've been told, "You don't get a second chance at a first impression". Is it true? Are first impressions really that important? We all know that humans are judgemental creatures and we decide nearly instantaneously whether or not we like someone... but in 2017, is it still that important to nail the first impression?
First impressions can be terrifying. Someone may choose to like you, or dislike you, just because of the way you're standing or the t-shirt you're wearing. Unfortunately, there's no way to create a cookie-cutter perfect first impression for everyone on the planet.
I don't tell you this to scare you, but just to give you the facts. You can't be perfect for everyone else, but you can start off on the right foot by nailing the basics, using appropriate body language, & being sincere and genuine. But... all of this has to happen FAST.
In the time it takes to blink your eyes, your brain has already created an initial impression according to Eric Wargo & PsychologicalScience.org. But if we only have a fraction of second then what's the point in working on a first impression if the decision is already made?
Wargo's study was based on people looking at photos of various faces and didn't take into account a real interaction. Upon further research, they discovered that with longer exposure face-to-face you have much more time to create a positive first impression.
Dr. Nadia Brown, MD & Dr. Michael Solomon, PhD believe that there are 11 critical decisions made in the first 7 seconds of an interaction that determine your first impression. 11?! That's a lot to try to focus on when meeting someone for the first time! So rather than focus on 11, we're here to give you the 5 simple steps to be more trustworthy, likeable, dependable, & competent.
What are the "Big Five" to nail the first impression?
1) Appearance Is Key
Is your appearance everything? Of course not. But it certainly helps your confidence. If you're sporting your old gym shorts and a smelly tank top when the cute girl walks toward you in the grocery store are you going to walk straight up to them and start a conversation? Maybe. But if you were a bit more presentable your confidence would be much higher to start the approach.
You don't have to walk around all day in a suit & tie either. However, we are visual creatures and the better you look at first glance, the better your chances of leaving a positive first impression. Don't fight an uphill battle and rely on your witty banter & conversational skills to overcome you sloppy clothes.
You may be a smooth talker but if you look like a million bucks, not only will you feel like a million bucks, but other people will sense your status as well and be drawn to you much more than if you look like you just finished running a marathon.
2) What Does Your Body Language Say?
They're smiling but they don't look very comfortable with each other...
Your words only account for about 7% of all communication. 38% is tone of voice and over 50% of communication is done through body language. You can talk about how confident you are but if you have hunched shoulders, shifty eyes, and fidgeting hands you're not fooling anyone.
Stand up straight, walk with a purpose, and remember to smile. Not a fake "cheese" smile, because those are more noticeable than neutral face but a genuine smile that engages your eyes & cheeks. Also, think about what your handshake portrays. Are you a limp fish? A knuckle buster? Do you do the crazy Donald Trump pull and struggle?
3) Speak Up & Stop Mumbling
What did you say? What was your name again? Huh? Shake out your nerves and remember to speak up and enunciate! Don't try to come up with an ice-breaker joke or a witty one-liner. Simply start with hello, and introduce yourself using your name.
If you're really trying to ruin your first impression then continue to mumble and speak so no one can understand you. Be clear, be concise and whatever you do, don't be Boomhauer from King of the Hill.
4) Stay In The Moment
We currently live in the most ADD generation in history. In the last 15 years our attention span has dropped from 15 seconds to a measly 8.25 seconds according to StatisticBrain. Just to put that in perspective, a goldfish has a memory of 9 seconds. Way to go humanity!
Although you might think it's difficult, try to actually focus on the person in front of you that you're meeting. Rather than think about what to say next, actually listen to the other person when they speak, nod along, and give proper eye contact.
If you're listening 9 times out of 10 the other person will give you something to work with to continue the conversation. If not, you can always ask an engaging question like, "What was the best thing that happened to you this week?" or "Where is your favorite place you've ever travelled?"
The goal is to avoid the generic, "so what do you do" style of questions and think outside the box. Stay focused, stay in the moment, and let your curiosity get the better of you.
5) Give Genuine & Unique Compliments
If you want to build instant trust, rapport, & likeability one of the fastest ways to do so is to disarm someone through the use of compliments. Again, avoid the generic, "nice shoes" or "cool shirt" and instead, focus on something that has taken effort on their part.
Pick something specific and be genuine. "Wow, your scarf really brings out the blue in your eyes, nice touch!" Complimenting someone on something out of their control like their height, "Wow you're tall!" won't do you very many favors.
Overall, a great first impression stems from your confidence and your ability to show genuine interest in the other person. Put forth the very best version of yourself, use appropriate body language & speak with confidence. Even if you have to "fake it 'till you make it" it's better than living your life in a bubble and never making new friends.
Like anything else, nailing a first impression takes practice. So start today. Next time you're getting coffee, walking through the grocery store, or heading to the bank. Say hello and make small talk with the tellers and baristas. The more you practice, the better and more comfortable you will feel. That way, when you really do need to nail the first impression, like in a job interview, you know you'll be prepared and ready!