How to Make a Great First Impression

It is often said you only get one chance to make a first impression and whether we like it or not, people formulate opinions fast—and often times, it sticks. These snap judgments will largely influence our level of success. To be more memorable, engaging and build meaningful connections, we must get it right from the start.

How to Make a Great First Impression


Welcome to this masterclass on how to make a great first impression, the number one way to set you up for success.

It is often said you only get one chance to make a first impression and studies have found you have less than 30 seconds to impress someone and as little as 7 seconds before someone makes a judgement about you. Whether you like it or not, people formulate their opinion fast—and often times, it sticks.

Your first impressions matter. From how you look, to how you come across; from what you say, to how you say it. Are you confident or anxious; are you engaging or boring? It all matters. Others are making snap judgments in just a few seconds that will largely influence your level of success.

In this masterclass we’ll explore exactly how to leverage the first few seconds in any interactions. We’ll do this by understanding the importance of non-verbal signals, how we say what we say, our ability to listen and virtual impressions.

By the end of this course you’ll have a game plan on how to be more memorable, engaging and approachable in your initial interactions.

You’ll feel confident in the way you come across, how you communicate and build meaningful connections.

And you’ll be the person who makes a powerful first impression with everyone you meet. So if you’re ready, let’s get started on how to make a great first impression.

Why First Impressions Matter

Your first impression matters and will largely impact the success we have when interacting with new people. In this first lesson we are going to analyse exactly how first impressions work by taking a look at how the latest research is proving the importance of these critical first moments.

Like most people, you make quick judgements or build quick impressions about others when you are introduced for the first time. It is just how we operate a human beings. With so much incoming data attack your nervous system, our brains have evolved to quickly grab available information about others, how they look, talk, act and compile that information into a snapshot of that person. Those first impressions – regardless of how value their – influence our feelings towards the other person.

You've heard it before you only get one chance to make a first impression. But it seems kind of unfair doesn't it, putting so much emphasis on those first few moments of meeting somebody. When somebody meets you it's just a small piece of your day and a smaller piece of who you actually are. You may not be having the best day, somebody perhaps get you at the wrong time or you’re not be prepared to make a great initial impression. What we seen in our work with leaders and individuals across all industries is people failing to build meaningful relationships and build their network or pipelines because they fail to see the importance of making a great initial impression. We are going to save ourselves a lot time time by emphasising its importance, because it is easier to make a great impression than it is to change a negative one.

So why is it that so much emphasis is put on that initial first interaction? Mainly because to the other person this small sample they have for you is 100% you. This is all they know of you and subsequently that is only information they are judging you on. Humans are hardwired to hold on to first impressions and it happens in a blink of an eye. And sciences backs this it up.

Researchers at Princeton University have found that people make judgments about such things as trustworthiness, competence, and likeability within a fraction of a second, simply by seeing someone’s face. The study found that out of all the traits examined, participants judged trustworthiness the quickest (within 100 milliseconds). Even when given more time to analyse, judgments about trustworthiness typically didn’t change, which means our initial split-second assessments pretty much stick. 

A 2017 University of Toronto study found that observers decide in as little as five seconds whether a person is charismatic, while watching a silent recording of that person delivering a speech. It also found those perceptions of charisma predicted whether the person appeared to be a leader, suggesting the impression we create will determine our leadership potential to others.

A recent study on online dating showed that users of dating sites quickly determine how datable you are just from your photo. Appearing "more extroverted, open to new experiences, emotionally stable, and likable" boosted one's success on the dating website. Even after controlling the text used in their dating profile, researchers found that the impressions from the photo held true.

What does this research mean? Well, people develop first impressions of you even before you open your mouth. It suggests that your appearance affects the impressions you make and we can influence or change some people's first impressions with our behaviour and how we present yourself.

Can you turn around a bad first impression? Research shows that it is possible, it just means it's going to be an uphill battle from the start.

We can tip the odds in our favour by taking action to ensure that our first impression is impactful, memorable and done the right way.

I’d like you now to pause the video and in your workbook write down a few areas where you make first impressions. Make a list for your professional and personal life.

We decide if we like someone, trust someone, or would want to work with someone within seconds of meeting them. So the next time you sit down with someone new, think about this.  All that effort you put into answering questions or perfecting your pitch might not matter as much as those first few seconds of the interaction.

In our next two lessons we are going to look at the non-verbal and verbal behaviours that we can practice to increase her chances of making a great first impression. Learn how to be mindful of non-verbal communication (what you say without saying anything) and how to be a better conversationalist. Plus you'll learn tips and techniques for how to be more memorable and like-able to anyone you meet.

As we draw this lesson to a close, I’d like you to think about where it is most important for you to make a great first impression. Take a few moments to make some notes in your work book.

Non-Verbal Impressions

Are you constantly misunderstood even though you consider yourself to be articulate and well-spoken? Do you seem to struggle getting buy-in or connecting with people to form a relationship? If so you’re in the right place. Before we explore what we say to make a great first impression, we must start with our silent communication, that is our non-verbal signals. In this session we are going to explore how we can leverage these signals to our advantage so you have the best start to your interactions. You’ll understand the importance of how we look and the body language that is essential to an engaging first impression. And you’ll be set up to succeed before saying a word.

A first impression is primarily dependent upon your non-verbal signals. To make it favourable first, you must use these signals to our advantage. By the time we speak we may have already had our chance to make a great first impression. If you aren't careful, you could unknowingly communicate a negative message without saying a word.

An issue in our strategy in connecting with others is that so much emphasis is placed on what we are going to say - our elevator pitch or a story or an anecdote. We focus too much on what to say rather than how to say it.

There are three channels in our communication: visual, vocal and verbal. Studies have shown 55% of first impressions are made by what we see, the visual; 38% is the way we hear your first words, the vocal; and 7% on the actual words you say, the verbal. Non-verbal communication is what do you say without saying anything at all. European Journal of social psychology found that our non-verbal signals are 12.5 times more powerful than our words. We want to make sure all these areas are working for us, not against us.

The first signal is our appearance, how we look and come across to others. Your appearance makes a statement about you whether you like it or not. Of course it's not always fair but people make snap judgements about you based on how you look. Are you dressed well and with intention, are you groomed or does your look fit the situation you are in. This doesn’t mean you are in the most expensive clothing or dressed over the top for a situation but rather that you appear focused and take pride in your outward appearance. If you're wearing a T-shirt and ripped jeans to a networking event it's going to give off a completely different impression that it would if you were wearing a Smart business suit was an appropriate pair of shoes. It's hard to say what the appropriate attire is for every single situation, however it is something we need to think about as part of our overall first impression strategy. Here are a couple of questions you can ask yourself about your appearance: first, how do I need to look to create a great first impression? Secondly, what elements of my appearance do I need to focus on? And lastly, what's the most important thing for me to remember about my appearance? Ask yourself these three questions and take action before you ever have the opportunity to make your first impression.

The second area for non-verbal signals is our body language. This is huge because people whether consciously or subconsciously others pick up on what you are saying through your body language. If you're slouched over, crossed armed or closed off others will get the impression that you're either not confident, engaging or you don't wanna be there. What we want to do is make our body language represent our best self.

Numerous studies have shown the importance of body language on our results. A 2008 University of British Columbia study explored the impact of body language on results using cross-cultural data gathered at the 2004 Olympic and Paralympic Games. It investigated how pride and shame are expressed across cultures, comparing the non-verbal expressions and body language of sighted, blind, and congenitally blind competitors.

The researchers coded the athletes’ head, arms and body positions. They found that winning athletes, both sighted and blind, across all cultures, tended to raise their arms, tilt their head up and puff out their chest. Also, expressions of defeat were largely universal including slumped shoulders and a narrowed chest. The more confident position is often referred to as a “Power Pose” and the opposite is called the “Defeat Pose”. People are attracted to confidence and will judge you largely on how much space you take up and how you care yourself.

To practice coming across more confident, in a moment I’d like you to pause the video and stand up in your power pose- stand tall, roll your shoulders back, have an open torso, lift your chest and put your hands on your side. Go ahead, pause the video now and give it a go.

So how did that feel? May not have changed the world just yet but it will have an impact on your confidence. Here at Quarterdeck we have worked with hundreds of people who were terrified of public speaking and presenting. Through using the “Power Pose” in their delivery, they were able to feel more confident and use it to make an impactful presentation.

So confidence matters. People also like connecting with people who appear to be engaging and to do this well is easier than most think. There are two non-verbal signals for engagement. The first is called Fronting. This is when you angle your three T’s your toes your torso and your top towards the person you want to engage. Ideally your feet and their feet are in parallel lines you can do this while standing and chatting at a network event or in the breakout room and you can also do this when sitting in the office or around the conference table. Fronting is an incredibly important non-verbal sign of respect when you angle your body towards someone, this is like telling that person that you're on the same page.

The second way you can nonverbally enhance engagement is with eye contact. Making eye contact with another person makes you feel connected and helps you read facial expressions and body language. When someone sees that you are engaged in them they will view you as an engaging person. The easy way to do this is to simply look somebody in the eye.

Take a moment now to think about the next opportunity you will have to practice these techniques around non-verbal signals. Pause the video and make some notes in your workbook.

No matter the room are you entering, who you're talking to or your goals, always remember the importance of your non-verbal signals. How you look and come across will impact your first impression. So the next time you'd like to feel more confident and engaging practice your power pose, remember to Front your toes, torso and top while keeping good eye contact. This strategy is the way to ensure that your first impression is strong and people are ready to hear what you have to say.

Verbal Impressions

First impressions are heavily influenced by our non-verbal signals and we have explored the actions we can take to ensure our appearance and body language are working for us and not against us. In this lesson we are going to look into the impact of what we say and how we say it, focusing on a few simple opening statements and how we can have better, more interesting conversations.

The next part of a first impression is our verbal communication, what is actually said and how it is said. In any interaction: speaking with a colleague, having a chat with your boss, starting a conversation, knowing exactly what to say can be a daunting task. Even more so when it is meeting someone or a group for the first time. We've all been there, a networking event when you first start a job or a wedding where are you don't know a single person in attendance. It's tough and can feel overwhelming to come across confident and engaging with so many disruptive feelings are play. Of course we are starting off with positive non-verbal signals and at some point we will be expected to speak.

We've all heard the saying "Don't judge a book by its cover” and I believe much can be based on a books opening line. It’s the first strike into the voice of the author, the creativeness, the style and it sells the reader to be engaged in the words and pages to follow. Now I'm sure there are plenty of books that are amazing even if they're opening lines don't blow you out of the water but when it comes to our opening statements with people, it’s critical we get it right. What we say it's going to largely depend on the situation and environment, here are couple of common business and social engagements that require a confident and structured opening sentence. And we are going to keep this as simple as we possibly can: no fluff or disingenuous actions just honest statements we can make to start a conversation.

The first option is a direct opener. These are powerful because they're simple and when things are simple there are easy to understand. The goal with direct openers is to get your point across without overwhelming the other person. One of the most influential direct openers is simply saying hello and sharing your name like this “Hi my name is Alan, nice to meet you”. It may be surprising how something so simple can be so effective. Studies have shown that direct openers are impactful and best relationship development because they are perceived as not trying to hard, relaxed while engaging. Direct openers can be used in person and easily used in a virtual space as well. If you're brand-new to your role or just learning how to interact in professional environments direct openers will be the easiest opening line to master.

The next option is what we like to call the “hands-up” opener. This is where you tell someone or a group with full transparency the goal that you have for the meeting or attending the event. It's a great way to give people context as to why are you there or why you'd like to have a conversation with them. People love certainty and by giving somebody one line as to why you like to meet them it offers a foundation of understanding and allows you to break the ice into a conversation. One of my favourite “hands up” openers is from a client who would attend numerous conferences and networking events throughout the year meeting people from all over the world. So he had plenty of practice making great first impressions to build his business and his network. His go to opener is "Hi I'm trying to meet new people tonight. Mind if I join you? My name is Bill”. He's had incredible success with this opener because it is transparent and it's actually asking for permission to connect with someone, showing respect while sharing your goals with the other person. It’s about being transparent and honest which are two great qualities to show when meeting somebody for the first time.

The third option takes a little more bravery to execute and doing it well will be the result of practicing direct and hands up openers. The next option is the curious opener. This is when you approach someone hoping to satisfy a curiosity or a question. The power of curious openers comes from tapping in to everything around you environment, the space, the group, the event the situation or details about the person. This is allowing your opener to be dictated by something around. My favourite example of this type of opener is when you're at an impressive location or venue and you could have someone “Hi have you been here before - it’s pretty impressive isn't it?” Another example being if somebody has an interesting looking drink and you asked "May I ask what you're drinking? It looks delicious”. “Hi I don't think we've met before my name is Alan I wanted to introduce myself”. The key to this opener is to be genuinely curious, don't make it up. If you're wearing a watch, it will be very confusing to somebody if you ask them what time is. So as you're learning to add this to your toolbox don't go too crazy with complicated questions let's keep it simple and as you practice you'll learn new questions. My suggestion is to try all three and pick your favourites. Remember to choose the opening line that makes you feel confident because when you do that it will increase the positive non-verbal signals you share as you use your opening line. As this lesson comes to an end, have a think about the opening sentence you will use when meeting someone for the first time. Make some notes in your workbook so you are ready to go when the opportunity comes.


Now that we've channelled our positive non-verbal signals, we've started with a confident opening line and now it's about the conversation. If we think of our first impression in terms of a hurdle race, although some hurdles may be bigger than others they're all equally important to get over in one of the last hurdles in this race is the conversation that we have. Of course different situations and environments are going towards different types of approaches to a conversation, sometimes you'll be the person asked the questions and other times you'll be asking the questions of another person. We are going to focus on the most important element of being a great conversationalist and it may be different than what you're expecting. The most important element of being great at conversations is to be an expert in the art of listening.

Being able to talk about yourself in an interesting way is very important but even more important than that is the ability to actively listen. The saying goes "people will forget what you said, forget what you did but they'll never forget how you made them feel”. So yes first impression is much about presenting your very best self but their experience of meeting you is more about them. That's where being a good listener comes in.

There are five levels of listening: ignore completely; pretend to listen; listen selectively; listen attentively; in the most impactful listening level empathetic listening. What are the major problems with listening is that we don't listen with the intent to understand, we often listen with the intent to respond. I'd like you now to pause the video and think about five interactions you have and identify which level of communication you’re on for that each conversation. It could be a team meeting at work, it could be a conversation with a family member or it can be your first meetings with somebody at a networking event.

Did you notice a trend? To truly make a quality impression with somebody in our conversations we must listen simply so that we can truly understand how they feel about what they're saying. Listen so that you see things from their point of you. This shows that you're fully present and that you value the other person.

There are couple things we can do to increase our capacity to listen to people. The first thing to do is to understand the value that it has not all the others in first impressions but the potential it will have our relationships. Not listening is a missed opportunity. Listening is a uniquely powerful tool for unlocking value in organisations: It spurs learning and the exchange of ideas, it fuels innovation and performance improvement, it builds rapport and trust among people. And it can mitigate business risk by uncovering unforeseen pitfalls and hazards. If I said to you we could prevent four of the five last problems you've experienced in the workplace and that listening would be the key would you say yes to learning this skill? Most people would.

The second area back to our non-verbal signals and how others are reading the messages our body language is sending. Often people are missed understood that they don't care or that they're not interested in but in reality they just don't look interested. And when we know that others are judging us that is a problem. So the second step is to look really, really interested. This could be leaning in towards the person that speaking, raising your eyebrows in a positive way and something as easy as smiling, tilting your head to the side to show that you're fully processing what they're saying. Each of these will signal to the speaker that you are listening, you're in gauged and that you're interested in what they have to say which in turn will make them feel valued and appreciate you. Do you want him to feel that you're on the same wavelength as them and give the impression that you understand the circumstances.

To become a better listener you need to encourage more open communication with more people and to do this we must focus the discussion on other people not on us. This is where verbal reactions and follow-up questions will allow us to show that we are listening and were in the story with someone. This is called mirroring where are you look to match the energy level and emotion as the other person. When they're telling an exciting part of the story you’re excited, when they bring things down you're right there with them.

“Be a good listener,” Dale Carnegie advised in his 1936 classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. “Ask questions the other person will enjoy answering.” More than 80 years later, it is as important as ever. And of all the questions we can ask other people there is no more important to the impression we make them the follow-up question. The reason this question is so powerful is because when we are in a conversation and not only create an opportunity to make an engaging story even more interesting but also shows the speaker that we are fully engaged and that we are listening to what they're saying based on using information that's forms of our question. If somebody is telling you about the business and the success Steve recently had you can ask "what was the biggest thing that contributed to your business a success?” Or Steve tells you he’s in a particular industry ask them “what are some of the challenges you face in this particular area of work?". This is going to take some practice but we want to encourage others to talk about themselves and in terms of that persons interest which makes them feel important and when you do this sincerely you will not only make a great first impression you will make a strong connection. What's amazing about this is how much it improves the other persons perception of you. Before you know it you'll become an incredibly interesting person not because of what you say but rather how are you listen. Even if you share very little personal information giving that person your undivided attention makes you more memorable to them. What are my favourite examples of this comes from Carnegie. He tells a story about a dinner party where he was sat next to a botanist. Being a great conversationalist that he is he asked the botanist to tell him about his work. So the botanist launched in about plant biology, botany and so on. In rather than change the conversation to something he knew more about he kept asking questions and became genuinely interested about botany. At the end of the night the botanist told the host that Dale was such an interesting person and a great conversationalist. In reality he barely said a word all night.

They signal to your conversation partner that you are listening, care, and want to know more. People interacting with a partner who asks lots of follow-up questions tend to feel respected and heard. An unexpected benefit of follow-up questions is that they don’t require much thought or preparation—indeed, they seem to come naturally.

As this lesson comes to an end, write down three areas you would like to work on to become a more effective listener and decide the next opportunity you will have in your day to practice you listening skills. See you soon.

Digital Impressions

Yes it's true sometimes in the physical world you'll get a second chance to make a good first impression or the least more opportunities to turn around at first impression that wasn't done in the best way. In the virtual world however you have zero chance of changing first impressions are made about you. When potential customers or collaborators view the "online you" and don't like what they see, they just move on.

Never before has it been so important to ensure that your digital impression is that you your company and your personal mission represent. The profile of your project online is a direct reflection of your personal brand and whether you like it or not this includes your professional image and also your personal image.

Surprisingly, many professionals still treat their online identity as a “nice to have but not an absolute must” and there are many negative implications for ignoring your online brand. You could be sending the wrong message, making it hard to build an authentic relationship in the future. You could miss out on opportunities as well. You don’t know who might be researching you, then deciding not to contact you for an opportunity because of their first virtual impression. We know from research that first impressions are critical, and they are hard to change.

In the information age, first impressions are less and less likely to be formed in person, instead being delivered through a computer screen via a search engine or social networking site. Here are few tips you can take action on today to support your personal online brand.

Build an authentic and compelling LinkedIn profile - For many, LinkedIn is the starting point when they want to learn about someone. Even those who start with a Google search will likely visit your LinkedIn profile. That’s because it’s highly likely that your profile will show up at the top of the search results.

Get your LinkedIn profile in order. When it comes to professional first impressions, LinkedIn is the most important site for most of us. Create a compelling headline (don’t use just your job title) and a summary that tells people not only what you have done, but who you are. Use the first person for your LinkedIn summary because it’s the easiest way to create a connection and “have a conversation” with those who are looking at your profile.

Invest in a professional headshot - The web may be the first place we go to learn about someone, but it’s limited in its ability to engage people. We humans want to be able to connect a face with a name. Make sure your headshot is professional and that your face takes up most of the frame. Avoid full body shots, selfies and using something other than a pic of you as your headshot. Headshots often show up on page one in Google image search results.

Beware of your your Digital footprint - This can sometimes be referred to your Digital Shadow and is make up of all of your online activity, that can be tracked, analysed, and used to construct a unique profile of you – including your location, social groups, behaviour and interests. What you post online can't easily be erased. Every status, like or retweet becomes part of our online record – so it’s vital to ensure that everything you’re sending conveys a positive message.

Before you post something online, think twice about whether it’s something you would be happy to share with future employers, family members or clients. The same applies for posting photos of your friends – if you know that you’d be embarrassed by something you’re about to upload, then don’t do it to someone else.

Pause the video and go Google yourself. Ask yourself “Is this projecting the most positive image for my personal and professional brand?”

In this masterclass we explored how to leverage the first few seconds in any interactions to make a strong first impression by understanding the importance of non-verbal signals, how we say what we say, our ability to listen and tips for leveraging virtual impressions.

Now take action and you’ll be more memorable and engaging in your interactions, building meaningful connections and creating incredible opportunities.

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