I don’t recommend you start your introduction by announcing your opinion on abortion or gun control.
I would also advise against launching a rant about transgender athletes—unless you like living dangerously.
Even if the person agrees with you, they’ll likely think you’re an unstable psychopath.
I don’t love the concept of first impressions. We’re already judgmental enough. A bad joke or misplaced comment can leave you playing indefinite catch-up with someone.
Nature has thrust this instinct upon us. Fast conclusions are a product of necessity. And the fact remains that a first impression can last for years.
So why not use this to our advantage?
Here are four simple tricks to leave a positive impression the first time around.
1. Save your reputation with the right note
A symphony of signals determines how a person perceives us. And confidence is the single most important note we play.
Confidence conveys that you’re not threatened by the other person or your own insecurities. You keep your feet shoulder-width apart. You don’t stray into the land of arrogance, bragging and acting better than others.
A simple way to convey this calm confidence is to maintain soft eye contact while talking slowly.
I’ve been guilty of letting social anxiety get the better of me—shifting around, darting my eyes about.
When you do that, it projects that you’re uncomfortable. The other person might think you dislike them. There’s nothing worse than meeting someone who looks pained to meet you.
Moods are highly contagious, so make sure you transfer the right one.
You can trick yourself into feeling confident. Focus on having calm and secure body language, and the nagging feelings of inadequacy will dissipate.
Your body has a powerful influence on what your mind thinks. A brave face can eventually lead to a brave mind. Think of your mind and body as dance partners who simply need to get in sync.
2. A two-pronged test when it comes to first impressions
Harvard Researcher, Dr. Amy Cuddy, found we try to answer two simple questions when meeting someone:
- Is this person competent?
- Can I trust them?
I’ve met people and known fairly quickly that I wouldn’t trust them further than I could throw an anvil.
Here’s the problem: I might have been wrong. First impressions deceive us quite often.
Conversely, you can bypass being mislabeled by maintaining an aura of positivity—just not overly positive. The ideal tone should be kind and inquisitive. Avoid speaking too fast. Try to listen rather than wait to speak.
Remember: saying less leaves fewer opportunities for you to put your foot in your mouth. Don’t brag.
I was talking with a man at a cocktail party. We got to our backgrounds. The only thing I remember from the conversation was him saying he went to some college and that it was “the Harvard of the Midwest.” He wasn’t joking and seemed self-satisfied as he said it.
And, regrettably, it gave me the impression of excess ego.
I’ve learned that people usually brag because they’re insecure. They want you to like them, often because they like you. That’s my positive spin on it, at least—my way of avoiding being too judgmental.
A calm curiosity will help you project that sought-after competency and trustworthiness. It’s your form of strength when making a positive impression.
3. Details matter to make a positive impression (even if it’s for the second time)
I was meeting up with a group at a Gasparilla party 12 years ago.
I bumped into a middle-aged couple I’d met before. They were both doctors who’d been to a house party I hosted.
They didn’t remember me since it had been a few years. I introduced myself and said, “We actually met before. You’re a kidney doctor, and you’re an ER doctor, right?”
Her husband said, “Great memory!” (My memory isn’t great—for the record.)
They were delighted. We immediately hit it off after that.
The thing is, we’re often making our first impression with someone during our second time meeting them.
We meet people repeatedly and often with great time gaps in between. They might forget us.
But if you can remember something highly-specific from your first encounter and then reference it, you can make a fantastically great impression with them.
It shows that you listen, you’re empathetic, and this person wasn’t just an anonymous stranger from the past.
4. Body language speaks as loudly as words (so resist this bad habit)
We had a performance coach visit my last corporate office.
He was teaching us about soft skills and interacting with people to make positive first impressions.
One trick he taught us was to lead with our hands. Use them as the tip of the spear in our conversation.
Among primates, hands are a primary weapon. When chimps get into inter-tribal battles, they often attack each other’s hands and use them to attack each other.
When you see a person with their hands in their pocket, your lizard brain hears a strong signal and wonders what’s in those pockets.
Like our monkey ancestors, humans still hold weapons and use their hands to fight.
Pocketed hands signal danger: “What’s in those pockets?!” Ambush and surprise are key elements of predation and violence.
Putting your hands in your pockets causes your shoulders to slump forward. When you take them out, your chest opens up. Your eyes look forward rather than down.
Try to keep your hands visible and at your side.
You’ll maintain a more even posture because still hands translate to a still body. Hand movement is needed for most movements.
This habit actually impacts feelings on both sides: your confidence, your anxiety levels, and the other person’s impression of you.
A positive first impression is the bedrock of your reputation
If you ace that part, you’re rewarded with likability and any subsequent interactions will be that much smoother.
Be mindful of how you carry yourself and the energy you project.
Master the art of focusing on others. When you meet someone new, expressing genuine interest and practicing active listening will be remembered.
Do these things, and you’ll make a great first impression that sticks.