Whether it’s a job interview or a blind date, a first meeting is your chance to shape how you come across to others – you want to make a good first impression. Within the first seven seconds of meeting someone they will decide if you’re competent, confident, likeable and trustworthy.
Those crucial moments are your chance to connect, build trust and set the foundations for a fruitful relationship. “Because first impressions are formed so rapidly they are more heavily influenced by non-verbal cues. In fact, non-verbal cues have over four times the impact on the impression you make than what you say,” explains Carol Kinsey Goman, author of The Silent Language of Leaders.
Here, we discover how adopting the right attitude and using certain body language can go a long way towards helping you make a fabulous first impression.
What to do in the first 7 seconds
“Before you greet someone, enter a job interview or step on stage to make a presentation, make a conscious choice about the attitude you want to embody. People are more influenced by how they feel about you than by what you are saying,” says Kinsey Goman.
- Shake hands. It’s the quickest and most effective way to connect with someone new. “It takes three hours of continuous interaction to develop the same rapport you get with a single handshake,” reports Kinsey Goman.
- Make eye contact. This is the key to establishing a connection, transmitting energy and indicating interest and openness. “When someone is looking at you, you’re more likely to engage with what they’re saying,” according to Ben Decker, co-author of Communicate to Influence.
- Smile. When you want to make a positive emotional impact on others, start with a smiling face. “A smile is an invitation. It says, ‘I’m friendly and approachable’,” says Kinsey Goman.
If you want to… take the connection further
Maintaining eye contact is the next step. “Make eye contact for 7 to 10 seconds in a one-on-one exchange, break for a moment to look out the window, then lock back in,” advises Decker. “In a group conversation, hold eye contact for no more than 3 to 5 seconds for each person – staring at someone will feel uncomfortable for both of you.”
You can improve eye contact by making a habit of noticing the eye colour of everyone you meet, says Kinsey Goman. To deepen the connection, reach out and touch the other person. “A touch on the other person’s forearm for a fraction of a second can make the receiver feel better,” she suggests. We are programmed to feel closer to someone who has touched us. It’s a compelling force and even momentary touching can create a bond.”
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: 17 ways to raise confident kids
If you want to… show confidence
A confident posture can enhance how assured you are in your own beliefs and lead to you making a better impression. “You’ll rate yourself more positively if you’re nodding or sitting up straight rather than shaking your head or slouching,” advises psychology professor Richard Petty. However, you’ll seem less confident if you shrink into your chair or hunch over your phone. You can also sound more confident and build trust with the correct breathing. “Breathe steadily as you speak rather than chopping up sentences.” says Dr Louise Mahler, author of Resonate.She also suggests avoiding creating negative scenarios in your mind about what others think of you. “The key to a positive impression is a lack of defensiveness.”
If you want to… appear warm and friendly
Smiling leaves people with a lasting impression. “You’re more likely to remember someone and their name more accurately if they had a happy face when you met,” says Dr Mahler. But to appear sincerely warm and friendly, Kinsey Goman recommends avoiding a toothy grin. “Slow-onset smiles lead to more positive reactions so begin with a slight smile and let it grow organically.”
There are also subtle gestures and movements that can help others warm to you. “Show you’re engaged by leaning in slightly, but respect their space and keep 60cm between you,” says Kinsey Goman. To gain trust, uncross your arms and legs and use open-palm gestures to show you have nothing to hide. Also, try mirroring the body language of the other person, she recommends “We trust those who remind us of ourselves, so observe their gestures and subtly adjust your behaviour.” You can also convey geniality with the tone of your voice, adds Dr McAleer. “To seem friendlier, try smiling when you talk to raise your vocal pitch slightly higher than average.”
ALSO READ: Helping your teen have a positive self image
If you want to… convey authority
If your nerves are racing, adopting an open, expansive pose can make you feel more powerful. By taking up as much space as possible and raising your chin before you enter the room, you’ll instantly appear more captivating and the people you’re speaking to will respond more positively towards you.
“Research at Harvard and Columbia Business Schools shows that holding your body in high-power poses, such as a Superman or Wonder Woman pose, for two minutes increases your levels of testosterone and lowers your levels of cortisol, the stress hormone,” reports Kinsey Goman.
People with authority tend to speak slowly and in a controlled manner, says Dr Philip McAleer from the Voice Neurocognition Laboratory at the University of Glasgow. “The most effective tone for communicating authority is a lower pitched voice, which is deeper than the average person’s.”