Making a Great First Impression

Getting off to a Good Start

Learn how to make a great first impression,
in this video.

It takes just a quick glance, maybe three seconds, for someone to evaluate you when you meet for the first time. In this short time, the other person forms an opinion about you based on your appearance, your body language, your demeanor, your mannerisms, and how you are dressed.

With every new encounter, you are evaluated and yet another person's impression of you is formed. These first impression can be nearly impossible to reverse or undo, making those first encounters extremely important, for they set the tone for all the relationships that follows.

So, whether they are in your career or social life, it's important to know how to create a good first impression. This article provides some useful tips to help you do this.

Be on Time

Someone you are meeting for the first time is not interested in your "good excuse" for running late. Plan to arrive a few minutes early. And allow flexibility for possible delays in traffic or taking a wrong turn. Arriving early is much better that arriving late, hands down, and is the first step in creating a great first impression.

Be Yourself, Be at Ease

If you are feeling uncomfortable and on edge, this can make the other person ill at ease and that's a sure way to create the wrong impression. If you are calm and confident, so the other person will feel more at ease, and so have a solid foundation for making that first impression a good one. See our section on relaxation techniques to find out how to calm that adrenaline!

Present Yourself Appropriately

Of course physical appearance matters. The person you are meeting for the first time does not know you and your appearance is usually the first clue he or she has to go on.

But it certainly does not mean you need to look like a model to create a strong and positive first impression. (Unless you are interviewing with your local model agency, of course!)

No. The key to a good impression is to present yourself appropriately.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and so the "picture" you first present says much about you to the person you are meeting. Is your appearance saying the right things to help create the right first impression?

Start with the way you dress. What is the appropriate dress for the meeting or occasion? In a business setting, what is the appropriate business attire? Suit, blazer, casual? And ask yourself what the person you'll be meeting is likely to wear – if your contact is in advertising or the music industry, a pinstripe business suit may not strike the right note!

For business and social meetings, appropriate dress also varies between countries and cultures, so it's something that you should pay particular attention to when in an unfamiliar setting or country. Make sure you know the traditions and norms.

And what about your grooming? Clean and tidy appearance is appropriate for most business and social occasions. A good haircut or shave. Clean and tidy clothes. Neat and tidy make up. Make sure your grooming is appropriate and helps make you feel "the part".

Appropriate dressing and grooming help make a good first impression and also help you feel "the part", and so feel more calm and confident. Add all of this up and you are well on your way to creating a good first impression.

A Word About Individuality

The good news is you can usually create a good impression without total conformity or losing your individuality. Yes, to make a good first impression you do need to "fit in" to some degree. But it all goes back to being appropriate for the situation. If in a business setting, wear appropriate business attire. If at a formal evening social event, wear appropriate evening attire. And express your individuality appropriately within that context.

A Winning Smile!

As the saying goes, "Smile and the world smiles too." So there's nothing like a smile to create a good first impression. A warm and confident smile will put both you and the other person at ease. So smiling is a winner when it comes to great first impressions. But don't go overboard with this – people who take this too far can seem insincere and smarmy, or can be seen to be "lightweights."

Be Open and Confident

When it comes to making the first impression, body language as well as appearance speaks much louder than words.

Use your body language to project appropriate confidence and self-assurance. Stand tall, smile (of course), make eye contact, greet with a firm handshake. All of this will help you project confidence and encourage both you and the other person to feel better at ease.

Almost everyone gets a little nervous when meeting someone for the first time, which can lead to nervous habits or sweaty palms. By being aware of your nervous habits, you can try to keep them in check. And controlling a nervous jitter or a nervous laugh will give you confidence and help the other person feel at ease. Again, see our section on relaxation techniques for help with this.

Small Talk Goes a Long Way

Conversations are based on verbal give and take. It may help you to prepare questions you have for the person you are meeting for the first time beforehand. Or, take a few minutes to learn something about the person you meet for the first time before you get together. For instance, does he play golf? Does she work with a local charitable foundation?

Is there anything that you know of that you have in common with the person you are meeting? If so, this can be a great way to open the conversation and to keep it flowing.

Be Positive

Your attitude shows through in everything you do. Project a positive attitude, even in the face of criticism or in the case of nervousness. Strive to learn from your meeting and to contribute appropriately, maintaining an upbeat manner and a smile.

Be Courteous and Attentive

It goes without saying that good manners and polite, attentive and courteous behavior help make a good first impression. In fact, anything less can ruin the one chance you have at making that first impression. So be on your best behavior!

One modern manner worth mentioning is "turn off your mobile phone". What first impression will you create if you are already speaking to someone other than the person you are meeting for the first time? Your new acquaintance deserves 100% of your attention. Anything less and you'll create a less than good first impression.

Key Points

You have just a few seconds to make a good first impression and it's almost impossible ever to change it. So it's worth giving each new encounter your best shot.

Much of what you need to do to make a good impression is common sense. But with a little extra thought and preparation, you can hone your intuitive style and make every first impression not just good but great.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Click here for more, subscribe to our free newsletter, or become a member for just $1.

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Comments (11)
  • Diana wrote Over a month ago
    Making a good first impression is incredibly important, because you only get one shot at it.

    http://www.mindtools.com/CommSkll/FirstImpressions.htm
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Sam,
    Thanks for the link to The Power of Vulnerability. I have edited your post to remove the active URL as we do not generally (there are exceptions though!) allow hyperlinks to external sites. I have however tried cutting and posting the information and got to the site. I will check it out!

    I plan to check it out in more detail later!

    Midgie
  • sam_dubai wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Midgie,

    Yes I know this Ted talk. I'm a fan of her work. You can actually buy a more expanded version of Power of Vulnerability from: www. soundstrue.com/shop/The-Power-of-Vulnerability/4122.pd
    (Not sure why it didn't paste the above as a link)

    I totally agree that this has an influence on how you come across as a person.

    Thanks for the usual support.
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Sam,
    I am placing more emphasis on my own personal development and, as you put it, come from the place of authenticity yet you wouldn't come across as "weak" or "awkward" I believe this makes better first impressions and more genuine interactions with others.

    Just the other day I was talking to a friend who recently separated from their partner, and we talked about using the phrase 'Sorry if I'm not being quite myself however I have alot going on'. This is a genuine acknowledgement that 'stuff' is happening without going into the detail of what that stuff necessarily is. I do not believe that going around telling everyone 'oh, I've just split up from my partner so I may be a bit grumpy' is the answer either. It is simply an acknowledgement that some big stuff is going on and it is having an impact.

    If people do not understand that we all have 'stuff' going on to varying degrees, then does it really matter what they think?

    I really love Brene Brown's TED Talk 'The Power of Vulnerability', have you heard it? I believe it does have an influence on making a great first impression. What do you think?

    Midgie
  • sam_dubai wrote Over a month ago
    Thanks Midgie

    Nice tips you provided here. They come from the place of authinticity yet you wouldn't come across as "weak" or "awkward"

    I will keep those examples in mind and use then when appropriate.

    Thanks for the tip on the audio book. I have listened to Brene Brown before and I respect her work a lot.
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Sam,
    You raise a very good point here can we allow ourselves to be vulnerable at work? To expose our feelings and fears? I believe there is a line of being vulnerable at work (and with friends) versus putting on that mask pretending that everything is OK.

    The difference, for me, is about how you express that vulnerability and what is the intention behind what you are saying. There is a difference between saying something along the lines of 'I'm not sure I've done this report well enough or that I am handling the situation as best I can' which acknowledges a 'weakness' and open to input, rather than putting on that mask and not even giving a hint that there is any room for improvement.

    In regards to first impressions, if you are having a really tough day or are distracted, saying something along the lines of 'I'm sorry if I am not my usual self however I have alot going on or alot on my plate' while still making the effort works for me.

    What do you think?

    Midgie

    p.s. By the way, the Gifts of Imperfection is available as an audio book!
  • sam_dubai wrote Over a month ago
    Yolande,

    Fantastic articles that I missed to read:) thanks for sharing. They all speak to the value of Authinticity. I especially liked the bit where it said " Tell yourself, "I am enough" – and mean it."

    Midgie,

    Totally agree. It starts with self-acceptance. My question is then can we allow ourselves to be vulnerable at work? To expose our feelings and fears?
    Thanks for sharing the name of the book. I will keep record of it in case I intend to buy some books. I prefer audios to books:)
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Sam,
    Very thought provoking post there about first impressions and being authentic in how we are feeling!

    I agree that if we are simply 'pretending' then it somehow comes across as inauthentic. And, that could do more damage than good because people might think you are not trustworthy if they sense that something is not quite right.

    Yet, I also agree that there may times, like Yolande mentioned, where the situation warrants us to put a bit more effort towards making that first impression positive. For each and everyone of us, that might mean different things. Yet at the end of the day, we need to be comfortable with who we are and how we are.

    This reminds me of a great book called The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown which is about self-acceptance. I'd be curious to hear what you think if you take a look at it.

    What do others think about this ... can you be authentic and still making an effort to make a good first impression even when you are not really feeling it, or do you simply show how you feel regardless of the impact or consequences it may have? Thoughts?

    Midgie
  • Yolande wrote Over a month ago
    Hi sam_dubai

    Your comment struck a chord with me - I seriously dislike not feeling/acting authentic. Do have a look at this article on authenticity - I'd like to hear your thoughts. http://www.mindtools.com/community/pages/article/authenticity.php

    I think there are times when we don't feel 'up there', but for the sake of the situation we need to step out of it for a while. I can't agree with you more that we need to be authentic. At the same time I think we need to sometimes put our own feelings on the back burner and concentrate on what will be good for business / the situation / our teams / our careers at that moment. If it means that you have to elevate yourself out of how you feel for a while - well, I think that's a good thing. We can't always live exactly according to how we feel; we have to take more elements into consideration.

    On the other hand, if we get the idea that someone is constantly 'pretending', it repels us. I think once again it's all about balance - being authentic, but also being able to elevate yourself to where you need to be for the moment. I'd like to hear your thoughts about this.

    By the way, you may also find the following article interesting about authenticity as a leader: http://www.mindtools.com/community/pages/article/newLDR_53.php

    Kind regards
    Yolandé
  • sam_dubai wrote Over a month ago
    Morning everybody,

    I'm wondering how we draw the line between being ourselves- in other words acting normal- or working to "making a great first impression"!
    You see what I don't like about this is that we are expected to make good impressions always, to be confident, to be at our best so that poeple don't judge us. This sounds logical. But in doing so I'm wondering if we are demanding too much of oursleves, if trying to look good has become a burden on our shoulder we carry whenever we meet new people. I'm wondering if people will start to accept it if we say "sorry I'm not feeling very good but I'm interested in this meeting and looking forward to it" instead of just trying to pretend everything is perfect when we are actually simply having an "imperfect" emotional experience ( which is perfectly normal).

    I'm not suggesting that we share our frusterations wherever we go but I'm also not in favour of trying to look good all the time.

    How about we learn to become at ease and just be who we are and accept our imperfections and the imperfections of others? To me, this has had a profound impact on the way I feel about meeting new people. Thanks to this new perspective I feel more at ease with new people because I no longer have to "be" someone else or convince others about me. This might not be the best for business but to me it feels authentic and I'm content this way.
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