Successful communication creates powerful relationships and business opportunities. Studies by Professor Alex Todorov from Princeton University shows that it takes no more than a tenth of a second to make a first impression when reading people’s faces. We look to see if the person is competent and trustworthy.

So what does that mean for you when you meet someone for the first time? This could be at a networking event, in a meeting or when delivering a presentation. If the group does not know you, this first impression will be the primary factor that decides whether a person likes you, trusts you and sees you as a credible expert in your field. One study suggests it takes eight pieces of positive information to counteract a negative one. If you get off on the wrong foot, you are likely to find it a challenge to recover after that. So, what are first impressions primarily based on?

First Impression

1. Body language

With Tordorov’s research on facial features and character, he discovered that those who looked relaxed, at ease and smiled made a far more positive impact than those who did not. You are constantly sending out ‘silent messages’ by the way you sit, stand, gesture, move or even shake another person’s hands. Others will consciously or unconsciously pick this up and make judgments or assessments about you. Whether these judgments are accurate or not, your body language will influence how others perceive you and whether they believe you are competent, credible and trustworthy.

Do you tend to withdraw by slouching, folding your arms tightly across your chest, losing eye contact or turning your body away from others? Or do you find yourself taking up more space than you need, expressing yourself with large gestures and not noticing how people respond to you? Having a powerful physical presence involves owning your full height and posture, staying grounded in your feet and being comfortable in your own skin. This allows you to communicate with greater physical presence and provides you with the capacity to read and influence others.

2. Appearance

Combined with body language is your appearance. Despite the saying – ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ – how you appear and what you wear does have an impact on others. Why? Because it makes an outward statement about you. This statement will be evaluated according to the role you play, the event you are at and the context you are in. So while dressing in shorts and a T-shirt for a high corporate event will definitely create an impact, it most likely won’t be the one you want to be remembered for. The question is, do you look the part when you walk into that social or business arena?

3. Voice

Did you know that your voice is as unique as your thumbprint? It is this distinctiveness when fully owned that makes you stand out and leaves that powerful, memorable impression. Men generally speak from the lower half of their pitch range due to a larger larynx and thicker vocal folds. This means they tend to lose variety in the upper range of their voices. This habit can lead to a lack of vocal energy and lend itself to a monotonous tone. Women on the other hand, tend to speak from the higher notes of their range, using lighter and softer tones. This can mean that they are not taken as seriously and may often be asked to repeat themselves. These habits are reinforced by social conditioning and ideas of what we think the male and female voice should sound like. Getting in touch and speaking from the middle of your range will allow you to incorporate the higher and lower resonances of your voice so you can come across with gravitas, vocal power and impact. It will also enable you to use more of your speaking range to inspire others with your message.

We are creating an impression all the time, whether it be sitting quietly in the corner or speaking gregariously to a large group of people. The question is what kind of impression are you creating? Does it reduce or increase your credibility as a leader and expert in your field?