First impressions are everything.

The science proves it: you only get one chance to make a good impression so you have to make it count. In this video, I want to teach you eight science-backed strategies to making an incredible, lasting, captivating first impression. 

How did I just do on mine? Good? Well, you’re still here, so good enough. Let’s dive in.

Whether you’re at a networking event, pitching your boss or schmoozing at a party, you have to nail those first few seconds of an interaction. No matter how many great questions you ask or funny stories you tell, if you don’t have a good first impression, nothing else matters. Here are my eight steps to nail it every time.

Step #1: Thin-Slicing

Studies have found that we not only decide if we like someone in the first few seconds, but also that the first impression stays with us. Princeton University psychologist Alex Todorov, 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. It might also imply that voters make their voting decision from a good first impression alone.

Making a good first impression is incredibly important for you 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? Watch on.

Step #2: Self-Evaluation

Let’s be totally honest right now. When people first meet you, What do you think they think of you? In other words, how do you think you come across? Choose ONE word from this list of adjectives or pick your own to fill in the blank. When people first meet me, they think I am_____

  • Charismatic or boring
  • Outgoing or shy
  • Kind or judgmental
  • Intelligent or weird
  • Open or closed
  • Powerful or weak
  • Engaging or odd
  • Professional or casual

Did you pick a positive word? Or a negative word? You have to know where you stand now to move to where you want to be.

Step #3: Ideal Firsts

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 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. 

Right now pick your ideal first impression word. When people first meet me, I want them to see me as_______.

Step #4: Perfect Your Handshake

A handshake, which occurs at the beginning of almost every business transaction or meeting, tells you more than you realize.

Research has found that people can judge our personality from handshakes alone. What does yours say? Be sure to get it right with our steps. A handshake is the first nonverbal touch point you have with someone. When talking about first impressions, we have to focus a lot on the nonverbal. Why? Our nonverbal signals are 12 to 13 times more influential than accompanying words.

Our goal is that your nonverbal shows whomever you’re interacting with that you’re calm, confident and powerful. How do you do this? With a launch stance.

Step #5: Stand in a Launch Position

Your stance is actually more important than your posture. We talk a lot about posture growing up, but nonverbal power is about more than just that. I call it your launch stance. Your launch stance has 5 focal points:

first impressions

  • Your toes – which should always be pointed toward the person you are speaking with.
  • Your hands – should always be visible and ideally expressive as you speak.
  • Your arms – should always be loose so there is space between your torso and arms so you can gesture and easily reach out to shake hands.
  • Your shoulders – which should be down and back so they look nice and relaxed. They also should be angled towards the person you are interacting with.
  • Your chin – which should be neutral so you are not looking up at someone or sneering down at someone.

Your toes, hands, arms, shoulders and chin probably were not the body parts you were thinking of during a first impression. But they should be! These are also what you want to focus on while taking the perfect selfie! 

Step #6: Avoid bad days

Believe me, I want you to socialize. But I also want you to do it on your time. 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. So here’s my plea for you: If you’re having a bad day, stay home!

There is almost no way to make a good first impression if you are having a bad day. If you have to go to an event, find a way to snap yourself out of your bad mood. I find working out, calling a friend or watching funny or inspiring YouTube videos before events often gets me in a more social, feel-good mood. 

Step #7: 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 have unintended meaning to a new person they are meeting.

I have my 10 favorite clothing hacks you can learn as well. 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. Even colors tend to have different meanings. 

Step #8: Point your toes toward the person you’re meeting

If your toes are pointed toward 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:

What’s comes after a captivating first impression?

Don’t be boring. I want you to have stimulating, eye-opening and FRICKIN’ fascinating first impression and conversations.

For what comes after your first impression, be sure to check out my bestselling book Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People. Apple chose it as one of the most anticipated books of the year and I hope you will love it. Thanks for reading–now go make those great first impressions!

Bonuses!

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:

Want to make a killer first impression on the phone?

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

Hi, I'm Vanessa!

Hi, I'm Vanessa!

Lead Investigator, Science of People

I'm the author of the national bestselling book Captivate, creator of People School, and human behavioral investigator in our lab.

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