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The Science of First Impressions


First impressions are everything.

In most business situations, you only get one chance to sell your product or yourself. Whether you’re at a networking event or you’re doing a sales pitch to a potential client, you must focus on presenting yourself in the best way possible. You can do this by utilizing the proper body language.

 

Humans are incredibly smart at detecting emotions and feelings through body language. Did you know that in just 30 minutes, two people talking to one another can send more than 800 nonverbal signals?

Even if you’re speaking eloquently, if your body language isn’t on par, you’re not going to make a good impression. This is because nonverbal signals are 12 to 13 times more influential than accompanying words.

Your grand entrance, opening line, initial handshake are all essential parts of your first impression that you can use wherever you meet someone.

The right body language can show whomever you’re interacting with that you’re calm, confident and powerful. In a business situation, it can help you make a sale, get people interested in who you are and what you create and encourage others to work with you.

Whether you want to increase your impact in business, romantic or social situations, you have to make your first impression count.

Before reading about the science behind first impressions, we would love your thoughts and feedback. Would you take our short quiz?

science of first impressions

Thin-Slicing:

Studies have found that we not only decide if we like someone in the first few seconds, but also that first impression stays with us.

Princeton University psychologist Alex Todorov and coauthor Janine Willis, a student researcher who graduated from Princeton in 2005, had people look at a microsecond of video of a political candidate. Amazingly, research subjects could predict with 70-percent accuracy who would win the election just from that microsecond of tape. This tells us that people can make incredibly accurate snap judgments in a tenth of a second.

Making a good first impression is incredibly important because you only get one shot at it. I know this sounds harsh, but as humans we are conditioned to judge people within the first second of meeting them—and our opinion often doesn’t change. This is called thin-slicing.

Thin-slicing is when we take a mental snapshot of someone and guess their competence, confidence and likability in less than a second. Researchers think this is a survival mechanism that we have developed to decide very quickly if someone is friend or foe.

Do you want to make an impression that people won’t be soon to forget? Here are some tips you can employ in everyday networking and business circumstances.

#1: I am _____.

What do you think people think of when they first meet you? In other words, how do you think you come across? Choose ONE word from this list of adjectives or name your own:

  • Kind
  • Charismatic
  • Intelligent
  • Witty
  • Fun
  • Powerful
  • Engaging
  • Wise
  • Professional
  • _________

Is your first impression all positive? Do you think you ever come across as negative?

  • Distracted
  • Silly
  • Snobby
  • Bored
  • Ditsy
  • Rude
  • Superior
  • Boring

You have to know where you stand now to move to where you want to be.

#2: I want to be ______.

How can you ensure people are judging you accurately and also seeing your best side? You never want to give people an inauthentic impression—many people can intuitively feel if someone is being fake. However, any time you meet someone for the first time, you always want to start on the right foot. The most important thing to do for giving a good impression is to set your intention. This is especially important before any kind of big event where you would be meeting a lot of people—i.e., conferences, networking events, or friend’s parties. As you get ready or when you are driving over, think about what kind of people you want to meet and what kind of interactions you want to have. This can be an incredibly grounding experience and works very well to focus on what kind of energy you want to have for your event.

#3: Perfect your Handshake

A handshake, which occurs at the beginning of every business transaction or meeting, tells you more than you realize. By getting the handshake right, you can show that you’re emotionally stable, agreeable and respect the person you’re meeting. Some people will put their palm out when meeting others, which shows that they are submissive. If you want to demonstrate that you’re equal to the person you’re meeting, do a vertical hand shaking motion. If you want to communicate that you’re confident, make sure your hands are dry. Sweaty palms are an indicator of nervousness.

  • The level of firmness in your handshake is crucial; if you have a “dead fish” shake, it’s going to show that you’re weak, while a “death grip” will turn people off. Practice your handshake on a friend or family member to ensure that you’re hitting that firmness sweet spot.

#4: Stand in a Launch Position

If your shoulders are hunched over and your head is down at a business event, you’re not going to come off as very confident. To make a bold first impression, take the launch stance. It’ll demonstrate that you’re in command of your space and that you believe in yourself. To stand in the perfect launch position, put your arms to your side and hang them loose and open up your torso so that it’s not blocked. Keep your shoulders down and your head up. Be sure you are using confident body language in your selfies too!

#5: Avoid bad days

People who go to cocktail events or mixers after having had a bad day typically continue to have a bad day. If you are in a depressed or anxious mood, others will pick up on this from your facial expressions, comments, and body language. If you’re having a bad day, stay home! Otherwise, find a way to snap yourself out of your bad mood. I find working out or watching funny YouTube videos before events often gets me in a more social, feel-good mood. For example we have some joke videos we post on our channel and an Awesome playlist:

#6: Think about your ornaments

Clothes, makeup, jewelry, watches, and shoes are all types of ornamentation, and people definitely take these into account when making initial judgments. I highly recommend getting some of your favorite outfits or ornaments together and asking friends you trust what they think of when they see them. For many men, they do not realize that their watch can say a lot about them. For women, purses and large earrings or jewelry can also indicate a lot to a new person they are meeting. Make sure that what you are wearing and how you do your hair or makeup says what you want it to say to the people you are meeting for the first time. Watch this video on color psychology to find out what the colors you wear say about you:

#7: Point your toes toward the person you’re meeting

If your toes are pointed towards someone, it means that you’re interested in hearing what he or she has to say. During a networking or business situation, whether you’re sitting or standing, you should make sure your toes are pointed in the direction of the person or people you’re speaking to. Be sure to do this when you give them your business card–its the ultimate sign of nonverbal respect. And be sure you have a great business card:

#8: Blow them away

Don’t be boring. I want you to have stimulating, eye-opening and FRICKIN’ fascinating conversation! All too often we end up using the same old social scripts and asking people the same questions over and over again. I challenge you to use my:

If you get asked the stereotypical “What do you do?” Be sure you have an amazing elevator pitch ready. Here I helped people with their elevator pitch make-overs:

BONUS: Special Events

Want to make a killer first impression on the phone?

Do you go to a lot of conferences? We have some magic for those:


Want to dig deeper into the science of first impressions? Check out our book Captivate!

Ever wonder what makes people tick? captivate, captivate book, vanessa van edwardsWant to know the hidden forces that drive our behavior? In Vanessa Van Edwards new book Captivate, she explains a simple blueprint for hacking human behavior. In this science packed, anti-boring guide you will learn:

  • The formula for fascinating conversation
  • How to walk into a room full of strangers and make a killer first impression
  • What to do to increase your impact and income using people skills
  • Our strategy for hacking the people code–we call it the matrix (Keanu Reeves not included with each book sale)
  • The art and science of understanding people

Learn the new–science based way for winning friends and influencing people.

buy captivate on amazon

All Rights Reserved + COPYRIGHT 2015 Science of People, LLC

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards is a published author and behavioral investigator. She is a Huffington Post columnist and her courses and research has been featured on CNN, Forbes, Business Week and the Wall Street Journal. As a published Penguin author, Vanessa regularly speaks and appears in the media to talk about her research. She is a sought after consultant and speaker.


7 Comments


  1. Pingback: 10 Steps to the Perfect Conversation | KJOZ 880 CALL IN TOLL FREE 1-844-880-5569

  2. Bella Perennis

    Thank you for the cool article! I already did the body language courses, but it’s always great to get the same bits of information from different places.
    I feel a little different about the tip for bad days… when I have a bad day it’s particularly important to me to go out, it really helps me to snap out of it if I go somewhere. Also teaching really helps, because all of a sudden I have to be there for somebody and can’t afford to be grumpy.

  3. Lauren Freeman

    These are really so helpful, they’re going to help me a bunch when making first impressions during job interviews! One thing I’m really interested in watching for is seeing where my toes are pointing and where the people-who-i’m-talking-to’s toes are pointing! I also know that I used to have the “princess” handshake, kind of like a deadfish but it was the kind of one that in the old days, men would kiss the top of the woman’s hand. TERRIBLE first impression. My handshake has improved tremendously since then, thankfully

  4. Dan

    I’m just wondering how many times has Vanessa been to that morning show 😀
    Anyways always a valuable and worth watching content. 🙂

  5. Karla

    I know having a good handshake is only #3 on the list ,but in my entire life I’ve only met one person who knew how to give a good handshake. When I put my hand out people usually do the fish or pull away right away and sometimes that can be a little bit of a turnoff. Having a good handshake exudes confidence and also shows mutual respect which is very important. Great article!

  6. Pingback: Ace Networking: 4 Conversation Starters for People Who Hate Small Talk – Legacy in Progress…

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