Mastering the Art of First Impressions
We are all fascinated by the mystery of body language and the power of first impressions. This topic saw its heydays at various points, however taking backstage role in the advent of modern technology. Yet, in the last few weeks, television stations and social media across the world have been flooded with experts analyzing the public appearances and body language of the US president. They have been overwhelmed with the impressions made by the most controversial figure of 2017, at least from a social psychological perspective.
We are now witnessing a revival of an art that dominated the stages of the previous century. Body language and the impact of first impressions have been the bread and butter of many personal coaches grooming budding public figures, whether politicians or business leaders. From a scientific perspective, social psychologists have studied the elements of body language to understand the dynamics of social perception and the mechanism of creating mental profiles within seconds of meeting someone.
Why is body language such an interesting aspect of our behavior? How can we master first impressions when we most need them?
We are always awed by socially competent people who seem to have a natural deftness and ability to impress others through their mere presence. We also seem to be fully aware of people who try to put on a show; these usually fail miserably as it turns out to be a false projection.
We all agree that first impressions set the rules of engagement and allow us to evaluate the person we are meeting within seconds. First impressions nevertheless, are subjective and are influenced by a number of variables, such as a name, age, social setting, circumstances, and stereotypes. Yet we fall victims to the immense power of that first impression. We can train ourselves to be objective as we observe others; however, the real challenge is to master the impression we leave on others.
How often have we wondered 'how do people perceive me? Do they notice that I am shy? Can they hear my heartbeats?' Am I going to stumble and make a fool of myself? These are just a few of the questions that race through our minds as we prepare for any public engagement. Whether the setting is an office, a dinner party, or a public appearance, we are usually aware of our strengths and weaknesses. The secret of first impressions is to project our powers, and manage or hide our shortcomings.
The foremost warning is not to attempt to disclose and manage a weakness right before heading out in public. Many people make this mistake; they read a book or browse a few tips online just before an interview or a social gathering and attempt to role play the advice. This is when they end up exposing their raw nature “Mr. Bean” style and make fools of themselves.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so it's worth investing to perfect it
The secret of first impressions is to project our powers, and manage or hide our shortcomings
There is plenty of room for improvement. Ideally, start practicing as early as possible to avoid the deadly pressure of an imminent public encounter. Practice makes perfect, and practice consolidates behaviors that eventually transform into a second nature. We are creatures of habit and it is those minute behaviors that are reinforced that we end up adopting as our own. The best strategy is to develop the skill of self-awareness and self-evaluation to determine which behaviors need adjustment and which skills are critical for social encounters. We do not only need to practice but also to exercise self-reinforcement. Behaviors such as smiling, walking, holding a glass, breathing while talking… can all be practiced in front of a mirror in the safety and comfort of your own room. A warm smile and a confident stride is your visa to a powerful first impression.
The cardinal strategy is to focus on others in public and to avoid focusing on yourself. Others are probably as anxious as you are to make that same first impression!
You have sharpened your skills and you are comfortable with a few tips that will get you going, and now is the time to focus on what to wear. Clothes are always a teaser; inasmuch as we do not want to be underdressed for the occasion, we also do not want to be overdressed. The secret to a hit impact is to wear smart simple clothes that fit you properly and comfortably and make you feel like a star on the red carpet. Most people will notice and focus on costumes that are weird, ill-fitting, and out of context. Make a point of always being more important than the clothes that you are wearing! Clothes are a second skin, so do yourself justice by sticking to classic styles that can always be enhanced or adjusted on the spur of the moment. A necktie can be easily removed and tucked away in a pocket if it seems out of place—similarly, a necklace, a brooch, or a scarf can be added or removed instantly.
The second challenge is introducing yourself and initiating small talk. Whether it is on a one-to-one basis or in a larger group, preparing a few lines that say something about you in an interesting style is always a killer. It grabs everyone’s attention and to avoid the ensuing silence, follow it with the all-time winner: “how about you?” This immediately breaks the ice and allows you to divert the attention away from you towards others, allowing you a breathing space. Do not ask questions that might embarrass others and do not seek information that might jeopardize the comfort of others.
Many of us wonder whether we will have anything to say that would seem interesting; therefore, always brush up on the latest local or international news or events. Be familiar with the most popular authors and a few books that seem to be the buzz of the cultural world. A well-read person exudes a persona of a polished and refined education and beams an inspirational aura.
If at any moment you feel that you might be perceived as boastful, you can always revert to talking about the drink in hand or the food you are nibbling on. Avoid talking about the weather. The stereotype of the boring weather comments are such a cliché that it can immediately lead to a rupturing of the group.
If you are feeling the pressure of interrupting an ongoing conversation, approach the silent person who seems to be as awkward as you are. Initiating small talk is always easier with just one other person, and always alternate between talking about yourself and asking questions. Disclosure creates a sense of trust and giving others a chance to contribute creates balance and harmony.
Finally, facial expressions and grimaces are the core of impression making. A smile is always the most beautiful attention-grabber. It sends vibes of self-confidence and a genuine interest in others. Once a conversation is initiated, make sure that you maintain eye contact with all concerned (avoid checking your phone). However, at all costs, do not stare!
The art of impression-making is a tool for success that paves the road for connecting and establishing interpersonal relations. It is these micro-expressions and mini-behaviors that have a long-lasting impression on others. It is also important, as a meeting comes to an end, to always leave a good impression. Whether you are excusing yourself from a group or leaving a podium make sure that you show respect to your audience—withdraw with grace, politeness, and an affable spirit.
People will form an impression of you within seconds, and this will last for a very long time. It is much easier to build on a well-established impression rather than spending time trying to amend or straighten out a misunderstanding. People have a tendency to trust their intuitive gut feeling, which is, quite often, the result of this powerful first impression. Capitalize on sharpening your presence by improving your body language, your demeanor, and how you are dressed. Whether this is a job interview, a meeting with new acquaintances, or a presentation that you have to give, make sure that you leave the right impression. It is worth investing in every moment you have to make that lasting splendid and remarkable impression.