How important are first impressions? Last night I heard a professional actor explain why he didn’t return to Toastmasters, saying the people he met there on the first night didn’t even make eye contact with him as he was greeted at the door. As a result he thought that all Toastmaster clubs must be the same and if so, he was not going to waste his time with these people. In another example, a wealthy philanthropist told me that researchers who barely acknowledged her presence at a party and this discouraged her from making a donation to that university.

I suspect that we all can remember instances where a bad first impression biased our opinion of someone…maybe a teacher, co-worker, store clerk, or date. Now think about how you appear to others when they first meet you. Would they consider you friendly, approachable, confident, trustworthy, attractive and happy? First impressions impact performance, morale, and trust of your students, colleagues or employees.

Estimates are you have between 3 and 7 seconds to make a first impression. The people you meet form mental images based on their own experiences and biases. Nonverbal cues (e.g., facial expression, voice, posture) tend to be about 4 times more important than verbal ones. These biases can be shaped in your favor if you pay attention to a dozen simple, commonsense cues that need little explanation:

  1. Be on time
  2. Dress appropriately
  3. Stand up – good posture
  4. Shake hands firmly
  5. Be relaxed and engaging
  6. Make eye contact – trick: notice the eye color of the people you meet
  7. Smile – facial features (eyebrows up)
  8. Lean in slightly … but not too much
  9. Meet them first: Greet people before your speech or meeting
  10. Vocal strength and volume: “Hello!” Avoid up-speak that sounds like “Hello?”.
  11. Listen
  12. ***Remember their name!!!!***