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7 seconds to a stronger first impression

First impressions count whether you
are networking or interviewing.
You know the 30-second elevator speech you’ve crafted to impress interviewers and clients? It’s four times too long to make an effective first impression according to a study by New York University’s Stern Graduate School of Business. The study found that people make decisions about others in just seven seconds.

Seven seconds! Count that out “one-Mississippi”-style. Done? Now you know there’s nothing you can say that quickly to give a great first impression, which means you have to use non-verbal cues first to truly impress. Based on suggestions from executive coach Carol Kinsey Goman, here are seven things to do – without saying a word – to create stronger connections and better first impressions in those crucial first seven seconds:

1. Warm up – When you go to a rock concert, does the band play immediately? No, they send out a warm up act first. Warming up changes the energy of an interaction, whether it’s between an audience and performer, or a job candidate and recruiter. And warming up before a meeting is easy, too. Simply chat with someone before the meeting – a receptionist at the hiring company, or someone you already know at a networking event. Warming up will change the tone of your interaction, taking you out of “pitch” mode and into more of a connection-building conversation mindset.

2. Stand up straight – Posture says a lot about you, so stand up straight, square your shoulders, and hold up your head. People are attracted to confidence, and that’s what this posture communicates. Want to see it in action? Check out Christopher Reeve in 1978’s “Superman” right after he and Margot Kidder have their romantic flight over the city and, as Clark Kent, he contemplates telling her his secret. Without costume changes or special effects, Reeve goes from mild-mannered Clark Kent to confident Superman and back to insecure Clark Kent in a matter of seconds, simply by the way he stands.

3. Smile – Smile when you meet people. Human beings are hard-wired to respond positively to smiles. Smiles stimulate the reward center in the viewer’s brain. So smiling at a prospect creates instantly in that person a positive association with you.

4. Shake hands – A good handshake can develop the same rapport as three hours of verbal interaction according to research, so try it. Reach out, take the prospect’s hand, apply moderate pressure (no one likes a limp or bone-crushing handshake), apply the “one-two pump” that business coaches recommend and then use this little technique to establish greater connection: hold on to the other person’s hand a bit longer. Non-verbally, this fraction of a second of extra contact communicates your interest in the other person, lending additional depth and sense of sincerity to that contact.

5. Make eye contact – At least in North American culture, lack of eye contact can suggest disrespect, boredom, or just plain lack of interest. On the other hand, looking someone in the eye indicates you’re paying attention and are interested in the person. But much as too little eye contact is bad, too much can make the person you’re meeting feel uncomfortable. So a good rule to follow when meeting someone is to make initial eye contact long enough to note the person’s eye color before unfixing your gaze.

6. Raise your eyebrows – A squint or furrowed brow communicates judgment or confusion, and nobody wants to feel they’re being judged or perceived as confusing. So to put the other person at ease, raise your eyebrows to signal your openness and interest.

7. Lean in – It’s no secret that we lean toward things that appeal us, so leaning forward, toward an individual, communicates that you're engaged and interested. Even when you’re sitting you can apply this technique: Instead of sitting straight up or with your back against the chair’s back, scoot forward and lean in. How do I know this works? Think about how people describe a thrilling movie? That’s right: They were on the “edge of their seat.” Leaning in closer to the other person communicates your interest in the conversation.

So consider the all important first seven seconds when you meet someone. Before you say a word, use these seven tips to strengthen your first impression and create a more powerful sense of connection with the people you meet. 

Guest post by Patrick Dorsey, Mightier Than The Sword Consulting, St. Louis, MO

Thanks, Patrick! -- Kathy


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  1. I really recommend the book "How to get people to like you in 90 seconds or less."


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