Making a great first impression is one of the most important skills you can learn.
Throughout your life - basically from the moment you enter college - you’ll constantly be meeting new people who could turn out to be important to you in the future. They could be your teammates, possible romantic interests or friends, or future business partners. When you enter the world of professional work, and start going for interviews, it becomes even more important.
Fortunately, giving a good first impression is also a skill you can learn. Even if you don’t have a whole lot of self-confidence, you can develop a few simple techniques to come across… well, however you like! In fact, you’d be stunned at how many seemingly “confident” people you’ve met have had to work on that persona - it doesn’t always come naturally.
In this guide, I’m going to break down the key components of a first impression, and how you can nail each one. We’re going to assume that you know in advance that you’re intentionally meeting the person, but many of these principles apply to spontaneous meetings too.
Let’s get started!
1. Plan Ahead
If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you’ll know I’m a big fan of planning ahead. This definitely applies here too.
The most important thing to know about first impressions is that they’re incredibly fast. Some social scientists estimate it only takes seven seconds to form a complete snapshot of someone; others put it at three seconds. Regardless, that’s not a lot of time to impress somebody.
That’s why you need to plan how you want to come across, before you actually meet the person.
2. Be. On. Time.
Always, always, always be on time! Being late is the number one worst way to make a first impression. The other person’s time is valuable to them, and you need to respect that. Being late to any kind of arranged meeting is a very tough starting point to come back from.
3. Have an Appropriate Appearance
There are a few things you obviously can’t alter about yourself, and that’s fine - we all have to be happy with the skin we’re in, right?! But there are plenty of things you can adapt depending on the situation.
The word “appropriate” is absolutely key when it comes to preparing your appearance. If you’re going to a job interview at a bank, you’ll probably want to shave, get a smart haircut, and wear a suit. But if you’re interviewing at a startup that is more relaxed, for example, then that getup would give the wrong first impression - in that situation, you can dress and groom yourself more casually. Likewise, if you’re going to a black tie dinner, then wear a suit; if you’re meeting your girlfriend’s friends for the first time, don a smart casual attire.
The key thing here is simply to fit in to the specific environment you’re entering.
4. The Handshake
This might seem like a small thing, but honestly, you should not overlook it! Shaking someone’s hand is something you’ll probably do within a few seconds of meeting them, meaning it’s definitely part of the first impression.
Don’t go full Arnold Schwarzenegger and try to yank the other person’s arm off, but do give a nice, firm shake. Look the other person in the eyes and smile when you do so, and let go when they do.
5. Body Language
Scientists’ estimates differ on how much of our communication is non-verbal - estimates range from around 55% right up to around 90%. The point is that it’s at least important, if not more so, than verbal communication.
Don’t worry for a second if you’re not the most physically imposing guy around. Basic size has nothing to do with creating a first impression using body language - it’s all about how you handle yourself.
Again, this is something you can easily learn with a few quick pointers. Stand up straight. Tilt your chin up so that it’s at least horizontal (but don’t peer down your nose at someone - that’s a bad look!). Pull your shoulders back a little. And smile… a lot!
6. Say Cheese
In fact, smiling is so important that it needs its own bullet point!
Showing off those pearly whites is the easiest way to help create a great first impression. It makes you come across as friendly, positive and approachable. Picture in your mind a celebrity who everybody seems to like - Magic Johnson, for example. How do they look? I’m guessing they’re smiling, right?
7. Opening Your Yapper
When it comes to the verbal part of meeting somebody, there are two things to keep in mind.
The first is to speak clearly. That doesn’t mean loudly, because you don’t want to come across as overbearing. Just enunciate your words so that they’re easy to understand, and you’ll appear to be a competent, confident communicator.
Secondly, remember that you’re not auditioning for a play (unless you are, in which case… go read someone else’s blog, I’m not much of an actor!). You want to have a dialogue, not a monologue. Even in an interview, it’s crucial that you ask questions and don’t just answer them. It gets boring listening to someone talk about themselves endlessly (at least, that’s what my wife keeps telling me), and - on the flipside - your desire to find out about the other person shows that you’re caring and friendly.
8. It’s Like You’re My Mirror, Oh-Oh
Sometimes, the worst comes to the worst - you feel out of your depth, you’re in a completely new and uncomfortable situation, and you’re unsure of how to act. It happens to all of us, but there’s no need to panic.
In this situation, I’ve got a sure-fire, foolproof technique for you - just be a mirror. However the other person is behaving, just try your best to behave in the same way. If they’re loud, be loud! If they’re sitting with an especially formal or relaxed posture, just use the same posture. If they unbutton their jacket, loosen up their tie, take off their pants, do the same! (To be clear, that last one was a joke).
So, there you have it. It doesn’t matter whether you consider yourself the most outgoing or introverted guy in the world. Just start adopting these tactics - being sure to plan ahead whenever possible - and you’ll be making killer first impressions in no time.