How long do you think it takes for us to create the first impression when we meet someone?
It’s 2 seconds.
This is a survival mechanism. In the past when we saw someone we were constantly looking to see if they are threatening to us. That’s why in the first seconds our brain is trying to identify whether the person we meet is powerful and whether they are inclined to use their power in our favor. So it’s looking for signs of POWER and WARMTH. We already spoke about these traits.
Do you remember when we spoke about the components of charisma?
Yes, power, warmth, and presence were the 3 components of charismatic behavior. And they are the same traits that will help you create a positive and lasting first impression.
Why is it important?
Having a strong first impression is like a shortcut to success. Because a great first impression makes it easier to build rapport, pitch yourself, and make effective personal connections.
And all you have to do is master those first seconds. If you master the first seconds of any interaction, it makes the rest of your interaction that much easier. Without the first impression, you have to work way harder to make a lasting impact.
The message you want to transmit in the first seconds of any interaction is: “You can trust me, I have a winning idea, and I’m here to help you”. And we do that by projecting power and warmth.
Power is the perception of your ability to affect the world around you. This can be many things, it can be social status, your confidence, the way others respond to you, it can be physical strength, money, profession, intelligence.
Warmth tells us whether someone would be inclined to use whatever power they have in our favor. Basically, we’re asking – are they friend or foe. It’s friendliness. When you project warmth, you disengage the fight or flight instinct in your audience, so they can relax, they will open to you and trust you.
Now let’s talk about concrete strategies on how to project power and warmth.
The secret to creating a lasting positive first impression lies in your body language. Because the first impression is formed before you even start speaking. To create a powerful and warm first impression, you need to pay attention to your hands, posture, facial expressions, eyes, and voice.
Let’s begin with hands. The first thing you want to remember is – show your hands. When you show your hands it signals to your audience that you have nothing to hide, that you’re trustworthy, and that they are safe.
Now let’s talk about hand gestures. Use purposeful gestures.
Now the gestures really need to be purposeful and deliberate. So the type of gestures I recommend you are listing - like one, two, three. Show numbers with your fingers.
Then sizing, so whether something is small or big, you can show this easily with your hands.
And then if you’re talking about something personal, you can put your hands near the area of your torso.
So remember as a charismatic person you want to use clear and purposeful hand gestures.
Now, let’s talk handshake:
The first goal of your handshake is to get palm to palm as quickly as possible. You want the palm of your hand to align with theirs. Never give someone just your fingertips or stop too short. This is not good for connection. Once you're palm to palm, always keep the handshake vertical. Keep your thumb pointed towards the sky and your pinky pointed towards the ground. Never flip someone's hand up or down. Always offer your hand in the ideal vertical position. This allows you to have an equal handshake. If you flip up or down, it's hard to get a nice reciprocal squeeze. Then, pump it. Most handshakes have between one and three pumps. Typically, we pump three times on a first meeting. It's as if we have to pump for each word, nice meeting you. When we're in a rush or have met someone before, we typically only do one pump as a quick hello. What about the firmness? The firmness of your handshake should be reciprocal. You want to match the other person. You never want to over-squeeze someone's hand or under-squeeze it. You want to match their level of firmness. Always start with some level of firmness right upfront.
Now let’s talk body posture. Now your goal with your body posture is to look like a winner, to look confident. And winners take up space. Taking up space shows pride and confidence. This is true not only for humans but for animals too. So remember - be a big gorilla.
Use this when you want to both feel and broadcast confidence—for instance before a key meeting.
Make sure you can breathe. Loosen any clothing if need be.
Stand up and shake up your body.
Take a wide stance and plant your feet firmly on the ground.
Stretch your arms to the ceiling.
Stretch your arms to the walls on either side of you.
INFLATE. Try to take up as much space as possible.
Roll your shoulders down and then back.
Imagine yourself as a four-star general reviewing his troops. Puff up your chest, broaden your shoulders, and put your arms behind your back.
Now during your day just think big gorilla and make yourself bigger, inflate your chest, and take a winning stance - which is shoulders down and back, open torso, big hand gestures, confident posture. With this body language, you will look like a winner and you will project confidence.
Now let’s talk facial expressions. First - smile. Smiling makes you appear warmer but also more confident. When you smile genuinely, your voice becomes automatically more attractive. A genuine smile is that type of smile when you don’t smile just with your mouth but also your eyes.
What part of your face do you think is the most expressive – Your eyes and the reason is that the muscles around your eyes are the most mobile area of your face. You know the saying “eyes are the window to the soul” well that’s absolutely true.
Using eye contact will build trust and create connection. Now a good rule of thumb for eye contact is to hold it for around 60 % of the time.
Now another extremely important component of your successful first impression is your voice and tone.
With your voice, you can effectively project both power and warmth.
If you want to broadcast power through your voice, speak slowly. Visualize the slow, empathetic tone of a judge delivering a verdict.
Make Pauses. People who broadcast confidence often pause while speaking. They will pause for a second or two between sentences or even in the middle of a sentence. This conveys the feeling that they’re so confident in their power, they trust that people won’t interrupt.
Drop intonation. Imagine a judge saying “This case is closed”. Feel how the intonation of the word closed drops. Lowering the intonation of your voice at the end of a sentence broadcasts power.
On the other hand, you also want to keep it fresh and entertaining so don’t be monotone, use variation in your pitch and tone.
Make sure you’re breathing deeply into your belly and inhale and exhale through your nose rather than your mouth. Make sure your voice is projecting. This means imagine that the voice is coming out from your belly to the back of the room you’re in. Now, this doesn’t mean shouting. This is projecting your voice.
Now to increase the warmth of your voice, try speaking as if you’re sharing a secret and play with your intonation. A great tip to help you sound engaging is to imagine that you’re telling a fairy tale to a 4-year-old.
Now we covered the basics of non-verbal strategies to create a positive lasting first impression. And these are crucial because as I said, people will form their first impression even before you say anything. But let’s say you want to start a conversation.
The choice of words for the beginning of your conversation needs to be safe and non-threatening but also engaging. You want your audience to remember you as someone they built rapport with quickly.
Here is my favorite framework for opening engaging conversations:
First – read the environment. Look for commonalities.
Then make a relevant comment that is context-specific, ideally related to the environment.
Finally engage with an open-ended question, again context-specific.
If you’re at a networking event or if you’re likely to meet that person again, introduce yourself.
So here’s an example of how these strategies might look like:
Let’s say you’re at your company’s happy hour and you see a company executive. They make eye contact with you and you read that as a cue to start a conversation:
"The venue is great. Do you do this event every year?"
They respond: "Yes, this is a great occasion to chat informally."
Now you will introduce yourself" "I'm Richard and I'm thrilled to be here." You will offer a handshake.
Now let's say that you’re at a conference center and you see someone looking at the convention center map. You read the environment and make a relevant comment, which could be: "This is a big convention center. Can’t find any of the locations without a map."
They smile and reply: "That’s totally right."
Now you can engage with a context-specific question: "Did you attend the Keynote?"
"Yes, I did. She was amazing."
Now you can continue developing the conversation: "Yes, I really enjoyed her message." And finally, you can introduce yourself: "I’m Dimitri."
Let's take another example. Imagine that you’re going to have a conference call with a potential client who is located in Italy. Now, this is an important meeting and it’s the first time you meet them so it’s a good idea to take your time to prepare and do some research. So let’s say you found that this person was recently awarded. This is a fantastic conversation starter. Also, prepare a question to follow. Since they are located in a different country, in Italy you can also prepare comments about something this country is famous for. Like weather or architecture.
So this is how the conference call could start: "Mister Romano, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you in person. I was just reading about your recent industry award. Congratulations. Is it your fifth one? I’m very impressed. And I see that you’re enjoying some amazing weather today."
Let’s say they ask: "Have you been to Italy?"
You can respond: "Yes, and your cuisine and architecture are truly remarkable. Now, regarding this meeting, I sent you the agenda…"
Since this was a professional meeting, notice that the opening was very warm and polite, but the conversation quickly became more specific around the actual meeting agenda.
Another tip for you. If you know your conversation partner’s name – use it. Why? Because as Dale Carnegie said, a person’s name is to that person the sweetest, most important sound in any language. Make effort to remember people’s names and use them.
Now, let’s practice. Imagine that you walk into an elevator and there’s a person holding a wet umbrella. She nods at you which is a sign for you that she’s open to a conversation. What will you say? Remember, read the environment, make a relevant comment, and then engage with a question. So an appropriate way to open the conversation could be: “It sure is pouring outside. Did you have to walk far in this rain?” Notice that the comment and the engaging question are very context-specific
Now, if you’re at a more informal networking event or if you have a certain level of familiarity with someone, for example, your coworker, it’s a good idea to step away a little from social scripts and incorporate conversation sparkers. This is because we’re attracted to people who give us mental pleasure, who push our hot buttons, and keep us mentally alert. A way to do this is to replace the common small talk phrases with more interesting conversation sparkers: So instead of asking
"How are you" – ask: "What was the highlight of your day?"
Instead of: "How’s work?" - ask: "Working on any exciting project lately?"
Instead of "What do you do?" – ask: "Working on any personal passion projects?"
Instead of "How’s the family?" – ask: "Have any vacations coming up?"
Instead of "How’s it going?" – ask: "What are you up to this weekend?"
Now if you want to continue in the conversation and go little deeper, beyond the initial conversation opener, your goal is to look for commonalities.
As humans, we’re always on the lookout for people who are similar to us. That’s why in any conversation, you’re looking for an opportunity to say "me too".
So here are some of the questions that can uncover those commonalities:
How do you know the host?
Are you a friend of the bride or groom?
How long have you been part of this group?
Do you usually come to this type of event?
Have you ever been to this conference / restaurant / event before?
Great venue, right?
How long have you been living here?
Love your pen, shirt, hat. I’m also a fan of…
How long have you been a fan?
I’m a fellow member of… How long have you been a part?
I saw you also went to / studied / are a part of…
Wasn’t that speaker / presentation / raffle interesting?
These questions can be used in groups, with new people, and even in emails and cold messages. Every time you discover a common thread, it links you together.
If you ask one of these questions and don’t find a similarity, it’s totally OK. For example, if someone says – nope, never been here before, use that as an opener. You can say: Me neither. What are your other favorite places around? Every answer you hear is one more step in getting to know them and being further along in the conversation.
Every interaction should be about finding these commonalities. They bring you closer to the person. The more commonalities you have the more socially attractive you become.
All right, so let’s sum up what we discussed today about first impressions and starting memorable conversations.
We form a first impression within the first 2 seconds of meeting someone. That’s why we need to pay special attention to nonverbal cues. When someone meets you for the first time, they are looking to see how powerful you are and how warm you are.
The message that you want to transmit in the first seconds of your interaction is:
You can trust me
I have a winning idea
I’m here to help you
The most important components of your body language when it comes to the first impressions are your hands, posture, facial expressions, eyes, and voice.
First, hands – make sure they are visible and use powerful gestures. Offer a handshake. Make sure you squeeze the hand with the same power as your partner.
Body language – take up as much space as possible. Think big gorilla and again use big gestures to appear bigger.
Facial expressions – smile at least a little bit, maintain eye contact at least 60% of the time.
Voice – make sure you project your voice from your belly. Make pauses between sentences. Fluctuate with your tone. Speak as if you’re telling a fairy tale to a 4-year-old.
Now, once you created a positive lasting impression with your body language, the next step is to start a memorable conversation. Remember, you are looking for commonalities. We spoke about a three-step framework – read the environment, make a relevant comment, and engage with a context-specific question, finally introduce yourself. Highlight what you have in common, look for opportunities to say “me too”.
When you’re at an informal networking event get away from small talk and social scripts. Look for conversation sparkers. Look for commonalities. They build trust and connections.
Now if you realized that you need one on one help from me then reach out. Head on over to my website communicationcharm.com