It’s a fact of our times that about 90% of the people you meet at work or in a social environment are going to have a preconceived notion of what type of person you are based simply on your visual first impression. We as humans tend to make decisions about people based on what they’re wearing (the visual), who they’re around (associates), or what they do for a living (career or business) before we ever talk to them.
This isn’t fair and we all remember the adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but it’s a hard truth, and it happens within the first 7 to 10 seconds of that first meeting. Now if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, or you’ve taken advantage of one of my self-study courses or personal image coaching, you’ve got that visual first impression handled. You know your best colors, you have an organized and attractive wardrobe that supports your personal and professional goals, and you’re confident about who you are. You speak clearly and confidently, and you’re not afraid about showing your talents and abilities.
But what if you haven’t completed all of your desired personal image development work yet? How can you extend a positive visual first impression into the rest of your interactions with people so that there’s not a “disconnect” between who you appear to be, and who shows up when you start talking?
We’ve all been there – meeting someone for the first time and thinking they are polished and professional, and then they start talking and interacting with others, and we wonder why their reality doesn’t match the image they projected!
Extending a great visual first impression means that your conversational and interpersonal skills must be just as polished as your visual image. Pretending to be something you’re not by dressing far differently than your personality is a form of deceit – and we all know that any level of deceit will surely be uncovered and any trust you’ve built up in that professional or personal relationship goes straight out the window.
Tips for Extending a Great First Impression
To help make sure you’re always putting your best foot forward in any professional or personal situation, here are a few helpful tips:
- When you’re meeting someone new, act as if you’re simply meeting up with a good friend. You’re more likely project authenticity and engender trust if you look at a new person as if they’re someone you’re already comfortable with. There’s no advantage in trying to impress someone by being anyone other than your authentic self.
- Avoid correcting other people’s mistakes when in a casual conversation. Helping a coworker avoid a potentially career-affecting mistake on a project at work is admirable but don’t become the office know-it-all during your lunch hour. Be especially careful in correcting other people while in a group. Pull them to the side, if possible, and gently point out the error – and whenever possible, do it BEFORE anyone else notices.
- Make sure that your body language is open and welcoming to others. Avoid crossing your legs or arms – that implies that you are not accepting of the individual and feel the need to ‘protect’ yourself. Sometimes women crossing their legs can be misinterpreted as flirty – an attitude that could be detrimental in the workplace or in business. Stand with your body facing the person with whom you’re speaking. Make eye contact with them, but don’t stare hard at them. Open body language makes you appear friendly and more people will want to talk to you.
- Stand up straight. You don’t need to stand as if you have a steel beam down your spine, but don’t slouch or lean against a wall. Good posture always provides a much better first impression than slouching over like you’re insecure or that you are trying to hide from the world.
- Keep a positive attitude and outlook. Being pessimistic or the constant voice of doom and gloom will repel people away from you rather than attract them. No one wants to have a conversation about positive ideas with someone who continually shoots holes in every possibility that is presented. You don’t have to be unreasonably positive either – pumping up every idea without first discussing its merits. Behavior like that could give people the impression that you’re unrealistic or that you’re attempting to gain favor with supervisors, managers or that big potential client.
- Focus on the people around you and not what may be going on in your head. Focus on the conversation in front of you and show interest in what people are saying and doing around you. You don’t want to appear distracted, egotistical or self-centered, and if you are asked a question, you’ll have sufficient information from the conversation to answer intelligently and avoid fumbling for words.
- If you know in advance that you’re going to meet a lot of new people, and this causes you some nervousness, try to rehearse the event in your head. In the movie Next starring Nicolas Cage, the character could foresee possible events a number of seconds into the future. Before he met the woman of his dreams, he rehearsed several possible ways that he could meet her and make the best impression. While you may not have such powers, you can still rehearse ahead of time!
The bottom line to extending a good first visual impression beyond just that image is to relax and be honest, authentic self. You may not be able to win over everyone you meet, but you’ll certainly be able to attract like-minded people, and at the same time, reinforce your self-esteem and self-confidence.