How to make a positive impression in seven seconds

Seven simple and powerful ways to make a positive first impression

By Carol Kinsey-Goman

You’re at an AWC conference and you turn to the stranger standing next to you. In that first seven seconds your brain makes a thousand computations: Is she someone to approach or to avoid? Is she trustworthy? Is she confident? Is she likeable? Does she have authority?

And, by the way, while you’re consciously and unconsciously evaluating her, she’s also making the same kind of instantaneous judgments about you.

In all professional interactions, first impressions are crucial. Once someone mentally labels you as “likeable” or “unlikeable,” everything else you do will be viewed through that filter. If someone likes you, she’ll look for the best in you. If she doesn’t like you or mistrusts you, she’ll suspect devious motives in all your actions.

While you can’t stop people from making snap decisions – the human brain is hardwired in this way as a prehistoric survival mechanism – you can understand how to make those decisions work in your favor.

First impressions are more heavily influenced by nonverbal cues than verbal cues. In fact, studies have found that nonverbal cues have over four times the impact on the impression you make than anything you say. Luckily, the same nonverbal factors that draw you to certain people are what others are instinctively looking for in you.

Here are seven simple and powerful ways to make a positive first impression:

  1. Adjust your attitude. People pick up your attitude instantly. Before you turn to greet someone, or enter the boardroom, or step onstage to make a presentation, think about the situation and make a conscious choice about the positive attitude you want to embody.
  2. Smile. A smile is an invitation, a sign of welcome. It says, “I’m friendly and approachable.” A slow onset smile leads to even more positive reactions. So, begin with a slight smile and let it grow organically. (Also note that when you smile at someone, they almost always smile in return. And, because facial expressions trigger corresponding feelings, the smile you get back actually changes that person’s emotional state in a positive way.)
  3. Stand tall. Pull your shoulders back and hold your head high. Good posture sends sending positive signals of energy, confidence, and self-esteem.
  4. Make eye contact. Looking at someone’s eyes transmits energy and indicates interest and openness. (To improve your eye contact, make a practice of noticing the eye color of everyone you meet.)
  5. Raise your eyebrows. Open your eyes slightly more than normal to simulate the “eyebrow flash” that is the universal signal of recognition and acknowledgement.
  6. Shake hands. This is the quickest way to establish rapport. It’s also the most effective. Research shows it takes an average of three hours of continuous interaction to develop the same level of rapport that you can get with a single handshake.
  7. Lean in slightly. Leaning forward shows you’re engaged and interested. But be respectful of the other person’s space. That means, in most business situations, staying about two feet away.

Every encounter, from conferences to meetings to training sessions to business lunches, presents an opportunity to meet people, network, and expand your professional contacts by making a positive first impression. You’ve got just seven seconds – but if you handle it well, seven seconds are all you need!

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., helps executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and sales professionals build stronger influence and impact skills. She is a sought-after leadership presence coach and international speaker who has keynoted at hundreds of business meetings, association conferences, government agencies, and universities in 32 countries.

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