Blog

How to master the art of first impressions

Did you know that we assess new people within three seconds of meeting them?

How you speak and present yourself in that sliver of time has an enormous impact on how your stakeholders, partners and clients perceive you. It’s the difference between whether they can trust you and believe you’re competent … or not.

This is both exciting and frightening. Why?

Because, regardless of your expertise and knowledge, you are getting judged on your capabilities based on first impressions.

To show you exactly how it works and what key elements we take into account subconsciously, I have created the diagram below. Here, we can divide this vital first interaction into ‘the three segments of presence’ – vocal, physical and mental.

Your body language and the way you hold yourself, how you shake someone’s hand, the tonality and volume of your voice and whether you can connect with your client in the present moment are a crucial part of the decision-making process and whether someone chooses to work with you and your firm.

Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy, who has been studying how we form first impressions, reveals the two metrics we evaluate when we meet someone for the first time: trustworthiness and confidence. Her latest research shows that these two trait dimensions account for 80 to 90 percent of an overall first impression.

To add to this, companies such as KPMG and PriceWaterhouseCoopers say ‘soft skills’, self awareness, knowing who you are and how you are perceived, are now valued more than technical ability.

How is it then that professionals still spend the majority of their time preparing their content instead of dedicating some of that time towards delivery?

Below are five strategies that can influence others’ impression of you and instantly increase your authority and leadership presence:

1.    Posture

Check that your shoulders aren’t round forward or rigidly held back. To be physically present you want to create space across your chest without creating tension in your upper part of your body. Check that your hips aren’t thrust forward as this pulls you back.

2.    Gestures

Gesture naturally and make eye contact. Don’t sway or cross one leg in front of the other when standing. This is a common occurrence when presenting, particularly among women, and tends to put you in a low status pose.

3.    Voice

3.1 Volume A present voice projects and sounds effortless and clear. Be mindful of different environments (a board room versus a client meeting outside) and the number of people you’re speaking to. Notice details and adjust your volume accordingly.

3.2 Pitch Watch inflection patterns that rise at the end of statements or letting the ends of your sentences trail off. Doing so will make you sound tentative, unsure and less confident.

3.3 Pace Do you tend to rush or do you tend to slow down when presenting? Don’t be afraid of silence- adequate pauses can be effective.

4.    Touch

Our first physical encounter when greeting a stranger is usually defined by a handshake. It is one of the most important encounters and defines how you are perceived. Maintain eye contact and meet the other person’s hand.

5.    Listen

Like speaking, good listening is an acquired skill. Practise active listening. Receive others’ words and ideas mindfully. When listening, think about how many different sounds you can hear.

Every one of us wants to have impact when we speak. We want to be able to influence our listeners, excite our audience but most important of all, we want to be heard.

The way you deliver your message plays a crucial part in this.