First impressions are lasting impressions. Trying to correct a bad first impression can be done, but it may take time and effort. Whether you’re meeting a prospective client, another attorney or the opposing party during a mediation, first impressions count.
According to a 1992 study that first impression is formed within two seconds of seeing you, according to Entrepreneur magazine. Two Harvard researchers, Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal, did an experiment where they asked students to rate two-second, silent, video clips of professors teaching. At the end of the semester they compared them to that same professor’s student evaluations. They found that those who got low video-clip ratings also got poor student evaluations and those who got strong ratings on their video clips received the best student evaluations.
The study authors called this behavior “thin-slicing.” We make quick judgments (or thin slices) of those we meet and rarely change those judgments. The bad news is if you’re not on your toes in those initial moments you are at a disadvantage. On the flip side if you want to win over a crowd or a person by having a great first two seconds you’ve laid the groundwork for a better chance of success.
Here are two suggestions that can improve those first moments.
- The grand entrance.
The first impression happens before we open our mouths. As important as it is to be prepared and speak in a way that gets the interest of others, that first impression occurs when someone sees us. Make sure your entrance into a meeting or event is a good one.
Be over prepared and control the environment as best you can. Try to avoid spending those first moments fumbling with files or a briefcase. Walk into the room with purpose and a smile. If you’re waiting for the other party greet people individually as they come in.
- Own your content.
Be confident with your material and be positive when presenting it. Use a powerful, memorized opening line because when you know what you’re saying you can focus on the delivery. Show some passion and intent. That’s what’s memorable. After those first two seconds make eye contact with each person in the room so they feel you’re talking to them. Then you can relax. You’ve been thin-sliced by your audience, hopefully positively.
If you think two seconds is too short a time, an article in the Huffington post cites a 2006 Princeton University study claiming first impressions are actually formed in a fraction of a second based on facial appearance. Attractiveness and more importantly, trustworthiness, are the qualities we judge most quickly.
Your voice’s tone and tenor play a significant role in determining first impressions. A Scottish study concluded that participants overwhelmingly agreed, based on hearing the subject’s voice, on several personality judgments, including trustworthiness, aggressiveness and warmth.
Trustworthiness is valued more than confidence when it comes to creating impressions. We get more positive impressions of those we think are trustworthy. To make that first trustworthy impression you can try,
- Allowing the other person to speak or have the floor first. Ask them an open-ended question and put the focus on them.
- Trying to be in charge by speaking first may ultimately backfire. The other person doesn’t feel any warmth toward you which is usually based on the person feeling you understand them.
Make yourself conscious of how you look, act and speak when meeting people. We do it so often we can be on autopilot when meeting people for the first time. Focusing on those very first moments may set the stage for future, positive results.