Research shows that we form an opinion on someone within 7 seconds of meeting them. This quick judgement is what we’re programmed to do – it doesn’t make us bad people, we just inherently need to decide quickly whether someone is friend or threat.
Whatever that first impression is, that is our default position when we think of that person. They will have to actively do something to get us to change that opinion of them. This is great if the first impression you’ve created is a positive one….but if you’ve created a bad first impression, you’ve got a lot of work on your hands to try and change their mind.
When giving a presentation, you want as few barriers as possible between you and your audience. Your role is to encourage, persuade and inform, and generally we are all resistant to change. We have to have a really good reason to change a behaviour or a belief, and that all starts with trust. If you can’t get someone to trust you within the first few seconds of meeting them, you make the rest of your presentation so much harder for yourself.
So, you need to get it right straight away.
Here are some things we can easily get wrong when we first meet someone – and how to put them right.
Letting our nerves get the better of our face. When we’re nervous, we often lost our expressiveness and appear closed and unfriendly. INSTEAD, imagine you are meeting your best friend – someone who ignites a natural smile on your face. This stops your smile looking false – which creates distrust – and helps you come across as confident, open and enthusiastic. And when we smile, we feel happier – win win!
Failing to look people in the eye.If you don’t make eye contact when you greet someone, you come across as unfriendly, nervous, or even a bit shifty. INSTEAD, look them directly in the eye as you smile and greet them, before moving your focus on to the next person. Don’t eyeball them or look for too long, which can be a bit intimidating. A second or two is long enough to connect and make sure they know you are genuinely interested to meet them.
Cutting to the chase too fast. These first few seconds are a chance for you to show you’re interested in other people, too – it’s not all about you. INSTEAD, ask them how their journey has been; tell them you’re excited to hear their thoughts about your ideas – dial your energy up and shift the focus to THEM and THEIR NEEDS. This helps with your nerves, too – it’s not about you!
Identifying the alpha, and only focusing on them. You may believe one person calls the shots, and they’re the person you need to impress, but we are judged on how we treat people, so don’t exclude anyone from your greeting. INSTEAD, show respect to everyone in the group, to demonstrate that you’re a considerate, thoughtful person. After all, don’t we all want to work with nice people?
A weak handshake. We’re just getting back to touching each other again, and it’s an important way to connect. But we’re still not sure how other people feel about close physical contact, so don’t be afraid to ask before moving in, and make sure your handshake is neither limp nor bone crushing. INSTEAD, practise on friends and get feedback; don’t go on for two long (two shakes is about right); and keep your hand straight – your palm shouldn’t be beneath or on top of the other person’s. And no sweaty palms!
A frog in your throat. Remember: you have one shot to make a good impression. Don’t waste it by croaking your way through your greeting, clearing your throat and missing your chance. INSTEAD, build a vocal warm up into your morning routine. A good sing in the shower and a natter to yourself as you dress gets your voice moving. Before you meet people, take a moment to hum up and down a scale and practise your greeting out loud.
First impressions matter, and it’s important for us to be aware of the signals we’re sending out. If you want to come across as authentic, confident and enthusiastic, it’s worth taking the time to evaluate your behaviour to make sure you’re not making it harder for yourself to connect.
Get in touch for help if you’d like honest, constructive feedback on how you come across.