“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
We’re all familiar with that adage, and the reason it withstands the test of time is because, for better or worse, it’s accurate.
While you may look like a rock star on paper or the internet, those first face-to-face moments can make or break how you’re perceived. So how do you make a killer first impression within just seconds of meeting someone in person?
Image consultant Kerry Cordero of The First Look breaks down the five components that will help you wow everyone right off the bat.
Project an air of confidence and positivity.
When you go into a networking event or one-on-one meeting, you want to appear positive and confident. But rather than simply telling yourself something reassuring but vague, like, “You’re awesome!” recall a specific time when you accomplished something -- like when you nailed a big presentation or successfully negotiated a significant raise.
Cordero says that, especially for professionals growing into leadership positions, this is a great way to feel fabulous and truly believe you’re up to the task or event.
“Keep the feeling of success in your mind,” she suggests. “Think about a specific situation that evokes the feeling of ‘I actually did something here.’ It’s real evidence. Carry that with you.”
Be mindful of your posture.
A positive mindset should definitely make you stand taller, but Cordero says there’s even more you can do with your posture to make a great first impression.
For starters, keep your shoulders square to the person you’re talking to. If you’re turned sideways, you give the impression that you’re only partially invested in the conversation. Likewise, skip the shaky “Elvis leg,” Cordero says. That famous fidgeting makes it appear as if you need to find a restroom or are itching to make a quick getaway. Neither perception does anything positive for your image.
For women, Cordero suggests instead striking a “Wonder Woman pose,” with your legs planted slightly apart and hands on your hips.
“You’ll often see Oprah in this pose,” says Cordero, who notes that this stance makes you feel more calm and confident, allowing you to feel powerful and appear self-possessed.
Men (and women, too) can benefit from setting their shoulder blades back and dropping their arms at their sides. This helps you look natural and relaxed.
Where you stand is also important. You want to seem open and interested without getting so close that you invade your new acquaintance’s space and overwhelm him or her. Nobody wants to be pegged as “the close-talker.”
Make a statement with your clothing.
Because your clothing makes a visual statement, you want to be sure it’s sending the right message. When it comes to dressing professionally, Cordero suggests keeping in mind three A’s: appropriate, authoritative, and authentic.
“Appropriateness is the most important one to hit. Think ‘What level of dress is expected of me and how would my manager expect me to dress in a client-facing role?’” Cordero says. “Being authoritative is in the details. You want to look polished. Have you been to the tailor? Is your hem the right length? Anything in your teeth? Do a thorough ‘mom check.’”
Authenticity is your chance to add touches of who you really are, Cordero notes.
“What colors do you love? What do you do on weekends? That can be reflected in your jewelry, ties, or even socks. Just like when you’re creating your website, you choose colors to create a certain feel, and your accent pieces are a way to convey your authenticity and let your personality shine through.”
A perfect example of wearing accessories with intent, Cordero says, is former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who collected brooches and pins and wore them to illustrate her interest in history as well as her sense of humor. They also served as a great conversation starter.
Remember the eyes have it.
Because your eyes convey your essence, that’s where you want a new contact’s gaze to settle, Cordero says.
“When someone focuses on your eyes, they’re able to see who you are, connect with your authentic self, and trust you,” the image expert notes.
So how do you make sure that’s where you new acquaintance is looking? Before leaving home, test out Cordero’s five-second rule.
“Stand in front of a full-length mirror. Close your eyes for five seconds. Open them. The first thing you see should be your eyes. If it’s not, it’s because something you’re wearing is too distracting, and you need to made some changes.”
Perfect your handshake -- with a twist.
Everyone agrees that a firm handshake is viewed as a show of character and strength, and adding a twist to that traditional greeting can enhance those positive feelings. Simply turning your hand over your acquaintance’s, so you’re palm to palm with yours on top, is a tiny power move, Cordero says, and one she especially recommends for women.
“The two-handed clasp can feel too intimate, especially when you’re first meeting someone, but this is something subtle that you can keep in mind when you want to assert your power,” she says.
Once an initial impression is made, it can be nearly impossible to change, so make sure you get it right the first time. Following these few simple tips can assist you in winning over new connections before you even introduce yourself.