You’re about to meet your partner’s family. You’re sweating, your hands are shaking and about a thousand different horrible scenarios are running through your head. Why? There’s a lot of pressure to get it right; you know the first impression is everything, and you want to be sure to make a good one. It’s totally normal to wonder how to make a good first impression.
As humans, we start forming an opinion about someone within the first seven seconds of encountering them—and sometimes it’s even less than that. There is an art to making a good first impression; the goal is to make a personal connection in those first few crucial seconds.
What exactly is a first impression?
Think of a first impression as a bolt of lightning—it’s a quick flash of who we are.
“A first impression is the initial reaction someone has toward us; it tells the other person if you are someone they can relate to and trust,” explained Jacquelyn Youst, etiquette expert and owner of the Pennsylvania Academy of Protocol.
“It’s an immediate internal and external reaction to someone we just met. Think of a first impression as an extension of trust.”
It may be on a first date, a job interview or when you’re meeting your partner’s family for the first time, but it’s important to note that first impressions aren’t only made in person. According to Shaquanna Chappelle, image coach, that first encounter is just as impactful face to face, on the phone, over email and even via social media platforms.
Why making a good first impression matters
Making a good first impression matters; there’s no way around it. “We all have the desire to be liked,” explained Youst. “When we are meeting new people, we want to send good energy and create a positive reaction.” This is especially important in the workplace when we encounter new clients, colleagues and bosses.
First impressions are also important in our social circles. When dating and finding a significant other, we want to put forth a positive, memorable portrait of ourselves.
Research shows that people form their first impression of you impossibly fast, and that first impression will influence all aspects of your professional and personal life.
“While a bad first impression might be possible to change, it can often mean that people won’t give you time to change their minds,” said Tina B. Tessina, psychotherapist and author of “Dr. Romance’s Guide to Finding Love Today.”
“A good first impression means that people will be open to learning more about you and getting to know you.”
How to make a good first impression
Whether you’re stressing about meeting someone new or you’re as cool as a cucumber and just want to maintain your confidence, there are a handful of tried-and-true tricks to putting your best foot forward:
- Put effort into your appearance. When people see you take yourself seriously, they will take you seriously.
- Be mindful of your body language. Your nonverbal behavior can communicate a contradicting message. Make eye contact, smile, have a firm handshake and don’t cross or fold your arms. These small gestures can make a difference.
- Speak clearly and confidently. Project your voice and enunciate your words.
- Be yourself. When you try to be someone you’re not, it’s obvious and can turn others away. Authenticity will always win.
- Do your research. If you’re interviewing or going on a first date, a quick Google or online people search can help you become more familiar with your audience.
If you’re stuck in a situation where your nerves are getting the best of you, don’t sweat it. “All you really need to do to make a good impression is present your sincere self,” said Youst. “Anything else will come across as contrived.”
If you can’t remember anything else, just smile warmly and introduce yourself. Let your confidence shine.
Can you overcome a bad first impression?
Some say you cannot redo a first impression, but unless you did something truly unforgivable, that’s not necessarily true. “I believe everyone has days where they are not running on full throttle, and it may take a second or even third encounter to show that you are sincere, confident and worth knowing,” said Youst.
“Maybe you were caught off guard the first round. People are generally forgiving and welcome the opportunity to get to know you.”
If you can feel that your sense of humor hit the wrong note, you made some social gaffe, or you were caught looking disheveled or ill, you can take the time to think about what went wrong and try again. This will be especially important if you’re meeting your partner’s family, your new boss or a colleague for the first time.
“Instead of worrying about how bad it was, make an extra effort to do it right the next time,” said Tessina. “Clean up your act, listen more, be open and friendly, and apologize if you have a reason to—for example, if you inadvertently insulted someone or spilled your drink.”
First impressions are opportunities, not risks
“A good first impression is the first opportunity to begin building genuine, trustworthy relationships,” explained Chappelle. “How someone is initially perceived is the foundation of any relationship.”
Keep in mind that the impression someone makes about you, whether accurate or not, could make or break potential clients, promotions or interviews—so take a deep breath, find your voice and don’t forget to listen.
If something does go wrong, try not to get too caught up in the bad impression and focus on highlighting and showing the value you can contribute. Even if your first impression wasn’t as strong as it could be, your character and attitude will eventually outweigh it.