Whether you’re meeting new clients, presenting at a board meeting or interviewing for a new job, it’s important to make a good first impression.
Opinions vary on the precise amount of time it takes to form a first impression, but all agree that it is an extremely short window, comprised of just seconds of judgement prompted by a range of cues. Incorporating the following pointers into your preparation can help to maximise on the benefits that a positive first impression can generate.
Attire and Grooming
According to study ‘The Effect of Appearance on First Impressions’ by Professor Karen J Pine et al, the most trivial of clothing manipulations can make a difference in how you are perceived by a new acquaintance. 306 participants rated images of a man dressed either in a tailor-made suit or an off-the-rack suit. Both suits were well made with the same fabric, yet participants rated the bespoke suit wearer as more confident, successful and flexible.
Grooming is another telling cue; an obvious effort to refine your appearance shows that you are committed to the importance of the encounter. Your audience and intentions should also be considered when deciding on the finer points of grooming; a study by the University of Stirling reveals that women who wear makeup are perceived as more prestigious by men and more dominant by other women.
Getting your look right for a meeting is common sense, but these scientific findings show that taking time to attend to even the tiniest details can make a difference in those first, valuable moments.
Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School believes that establishing trust may be more important than projecting dominance and competence in an initial meeting. Cuddy says that trust opens people up to your strength and confidence, and allows them to reveal more of themselves: “Trust is the conduit through which ideas travel.”
Cuddy offers the following simple tips for conveying trustworthiness in a first encounter:
- Let the other person speak first
- Ask questions
- Make small talk when appropriate
On the flip side of the coin, Amy Cuddy has also studied power poses in detail. It was found that standing in a high power posture - such as arms on hips, legs apart a la Wonder Woman, or reclining in a desk chair with your feet up and your hands behind your head - increased hormones directly related to confidence and decreased those that affect stress. While assuming these super-dominant poses may not be in your best interests during the meeting, holding them for two minutes before it commences will prepare your brain with a shot of confidence.
Tone of Voice
A study by the University of Glasgow found that women who vary the tone of their voice as they speak are perceived as more trustworthy by listeners, as are men who raise the tone of their voices. During the investigation, 30 male and 30 female undergraduate students were recorded saying simply, “Hello,” but the impressions garnered from this brief vocalisation were intriguing. Men with lower pitched voices were assumed to be more dominant, but women’s voices had the opposite result – higher pitched tones were considered more dominant.
While you may not be able to alter the tone of your voice as a whole, you can make an effort to customise your greeting. With only seconds to play with, practising your opening statement ahead of time may be well worth the effort.
This is a tip we have heard since primary school, and yet making eye contact carries even more weight than you think. Looking while speaking is directly linked to your audience’s perception of your intelligence, according to a study by Dr. Nora Murphy of Marymount University, Los Angeles.
Maintaining appropriate, unforced eye contact can be a challenge, but here are a few tips to help:
- Establish eye contact early; it's particularly important when shaking hands
- Eye contact should be natural and friendly, with brief breaks and reconnections rather than stares
- Reinforce your interest by maintaining eye contact while the other person is asking questions
- Be sure to engage eye contact when delivering key points
- Focusing on just one of the other person's eyes, rather than both, can be easier to maintain