Is the first impression really that important?
I am sure you have heard the phrase “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression” several times, most likely recited it yourself. Yet, just because we hear it often doesn’t mean we should ignore it. Research shows that the first impression we form of another is correct 67 percent of the time. So it causes us to trust the impressions we form of another person. If you make a poor first impression, it will take seven times, on average, to turn around the verdict to one in your favor.
We don’t like to think of ourselves as judgmental, but the fact is that our brains are just wired that way. It’s a defense mechanism so we can quickly assess a situation and know if it’s dangerous for us or not. Creating the time and opportunities to make this happen is difficult to do. The best action to take is preventing this from happening in the first place.
Most of us make the mistake of spending all of our energy concentrating on just what we will say, yet the impression we make will happen before we speak a word. It happens as we enter the room or make our approach toward someone. Yes, there is always someone watching us.
The following are some simple actions you can do to make sure your first impression is a positive, attractive one before you speak your first word. The main idea to keep in mind is to enter the situation as if you “own” the room. When we enter a room we bring our energy into it. Not something we can see, but we all certainly feel. When one is happy and upbeat – we feel how the ambiance of the room changes, we begin to feel better ourselves. The opposite is also true – when a person is upset, angry or depressed, we sense a downturn. Are you the person who lights up the room when you enter or is the opposite true?
Knowing this, here are some things to keep in mind.
- Smile – something so simple yet it will go a long way. It can be seen from across the room. You just made a positive impression and all you did was move a few muscles. It’s also contagious.
- Posture – yes, good posture conveys confidence and a positive image. I still remember my mother telling me to “stand up straight” when I was younger. Good advice to apply.
- Eye contact – connect with those in the room by looking in their eyes. Sounds simple yet how many times have you entered a room reading a piece of paper or fumbling in your purse? Those first seconds are crucial to use them to your favor. Connect with others first, then you can look at your notes to make sure you’re in the right location or find the answer to your question. Then you can look at what you need because you have laid a good foundation with your impression. I have done this many times where I’m not sure if I’m in the correct location, so I walk up to the first person I see, make a connection, then look at my information and ask the question. I have made many unexpected contacts this way.
- Smart Phones – don’t always make us look smart. If you need to take a phone call before your meeting, finish the call before you enter the room. Walking into a room when you are on the phone can easily convey the wrong impression such as: the person on the phone is more important than the people in the room; I am so busy, I really don’t have time for this; and even that you want to brag about how important you are – you just have so many people needing you! Most likely it’s not your intention yet that’s what happens. Others see you’re on the phone and will turn away from you and give their attention to someone else. Once you finish your call, it will take you twice as long to gain the positive attention back. So why take the chance? Finish your phone call, and then enter the room prepared.The same holds true for other actions on your phone such as reading text messages, perusing Facebook, the internet, email, etc. Looking at your phone and not the people gives off the same ‘lack of importance” attitude. It also will affect your posture and it goes without saying your lack of eye contact.
- Your mood. If you are having a tough day and just not able to put on your friendly face, it may be best to stay away if possible. If you’re tired or upset, that is what you will carry with you into the room. Compose yourself beforehand. You don’t want to spend the next several minutes explaining why you are tired or upset for is that the lasting impression you want to create? I have told some clients to understand themselves enough that if they are not a morning person, then don’t attend morning network groups. You don’t want to be known as the one who has to have several cups of coffee before you can effectively communicate with someone.
- Clothes, style, image – this is a whole topic onto itself so I won’t go into great detail. It is especially important because this is what we see first. Know your audience and dress appropriately. If in doubt, you can always ask someone before you arrive about the attire of the occasion. What we wear on the outside affects our feeling on the inside. We all have our favorite outfits, the ones we feel more confident in. That confidence reveals itself on the outside. One simple rule to follow is if you are questioning whether your outfit is appropriate or not – then change it. The self-questioning reveals itself on the outside and in your actions.
Following the above tips will have you “owning” every situation you walk into with your positive first impression that will transition you into a good start with your conversation. You now have their attention so you don’t have to worry about needing to say the “perfect” words in the situation. Be yourself and the conversation will flow and the connection begins.