Impressive First Impressions
By Chelse Benham
“Better keep yourself clean and bright; you are the window through which you
must see the world.” - George Bernard Shaw, (1856-1950) Irish dramatist &
“Nobody can avoid making judgments about appearances, and everybody does it
instantly,” that statement according to a report by Camerons, an international
business consulting and research company in Australia. Camerons continues to
report, “One of the things you are about to discover is that the vast majority of
communication between people happens subconsciously. That means it is
"behind the scenes," out of our control…Only the tiny handful who discover and
master the truth of communication are able to have a positive influence on all of
Imagine if you could instantly and positively influence people, maneuvering
situations to your advantage in all your meetings and everywhere you went. You
can if you know how the game of ‘first impressions’ is played. Here is the first
rule: it is played whether you want to or not.
“We offer an interviewing skills workshop where we go over body language and
how it impacts students in the interview process,” said Lourdes Servantes,
placement specialist at The University of Texas-Pan American’s Career
Placement Services Office. “Body language has more to do with hiring than many
students ever realize. We’re here to help equal the playing field and increase the
student’s chances at getting the job.”
We judge people based on assumptions and on our personal expectations about
their race, age, occupation, competence, education, mood, personality,
trustworthiness and sexuality. Here’s the clincher, that assessment is largely
emotional! The emotional impression we affect in someone is likely to
permanently remain with them, ultimately giving weight to the saying, “You only
get one chance to make a good impression.” There are some factors that
influence the formation of impressions. A few listed by Camerons are:
• People respond more strongly to non-verbal information than to
what you say. A 1996 study titled “Silent Messages” by Albert Mehrabin,
a professor at University of California, Los Angeles has proven
convincingly that visual images matter a great deal. He found that the
impact we make on each other depends - 55 percent on our appearance,
38 percent on our voice and seven percent on what we say.
• People don’t remember your appearance, they remember your
character. This means that if you make a poor impression, you are likely
to be remembered as being less attractive than you really are! However,
your appearance influences their opinion of your character. Dress does
• Clothes have definite meanings to people. “Clothing, more than
anything else…is always a symbol of who you are,” according to Barbara
Dickstein of the Smithsonian Institute. “It tells your status, your role in life
and your social position.”
• Whether right or wrong, people hold on to their impressions. People
are reluctant to change their opinions once they form them.
Dr. Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, who specializes in the meaning of appearance and
behavior, is a jury consultant who's worked on some of the biggest celebrity
cases of the past decade including those of OJ Simpson and Rodney King. She
and trial lawyer, Mark Mazzarella, co-authored the book “How to Understand
People and Predict Their Behavior- -Anytime, Anyplace.” In it they outline five
key character traits most people use to form positive or negative impressions of
1. Trustworthiness/lack of trustworthiness – it is the most important
contributor in making a great first impression.
Men (and women) should always shake hands firmly, smile
and maintain eye contact.
Keep all promises. Use small promises to build trust and
consistently deliver on them.
2. Caring/lack of caring – It is a very deep psychological need in human
beings that we be valued. Taking an interest in someone shows you
The simplest way to create a positive caring impression is to
use a person’s name shortly after you hear it. The easiest
way to imply lack of caring is to forget it.
To help remember a person’s name, find out three facts
about them when you first meet them.
3. Good/Bad dress – Being well dressed makes a strong impression and
it contributes to perceptions of trustworthiness. People associate good
quality clothing with success, competence and authority.
Dressing in high fashion clothes can create feelings that you
are not trustworthy or caring. The most universally positive
way to dress is with high quality, classic clothing.
Wearing colors that suit your eyes, skin and hair actually
helps people communicate better with you.
Black suits, for men, test poorly for trust. Navy is the best
overall for trustworthiness.
When in doubt dress conservatively.
4. Humility/Arrogance – Humility as such does not rate high as a
desirable trait, but arrogance is a stronger negative trait. To really
impress others you must be more interested in them then in yourself.
5. Positive/Negative attitude – Your attitude in life or situations directly
affects how others perceive you. Even the smallest comments and
casual remarks can give away much about you. If you talk about things
negatively or lean to more unpleasant topics you could appear
The way we communicate with others upon meeting them greatly affects the first
impression we leave with them. What we say and how we carry ourselves may
say so much about who we are. Camerons lists the “circle of success,” five
elements or messages we send out when communicating and creating
impressions with others. Learning to control these areas of communication helps
to promote a positive first impression.
1. Listen to the words you use. If you “um and ah” or have verbal crutches
such as saying “you know” or “man” it is crucial that you learn to correct
for these things. Read aloud for 10 minutes each day and it should help
train you out of these verbal habits.
2. Pay attention to your posture. If you stoop or have bad posture, most
people will immediately associate it with low intelligence. Also, sudden
shifts in posture can raise doubts in the other person’s mind. Pay close
attention to your unconscious body language, especially when you are
negotiating or discussing price.
3. Pay attention to your expressions. Learn to keep your face relaxed and
smile. Smiling has the warmest effect and it creates a positive feeling in
4. Be aware of the tone of your voice. Tone is so much more important
than words. Vary your tone and be expressive.
5. Dress appropriately and meticulously. Balance your clothing with all the
messages you are sending in the other areas of communication. Keep it
consistent with everybody you meet.
Michelle T. Sterling, principal and founder of Global Image Group, a consulting
firm specializing in helping clients develop a strong first impression and brand
identity, defines the first impression as a means whereby people are looking for
“common surface clues.”
• If you appear to be of comparable business or social level, you are
considered suitable for further interaction.
• If you appear to be of higher business or social status, you are admired
and cultivated as a valuable contact.
• If you appear to be of lower business or social standing, you are tolerated
but kept at arm's length.
To cultivate the best first impression here are some helpful tips.
• Make sure your nails are filed and clean.
• Women should use makeup close to their skin color, colors that are
natural and compliment their skin.
• Men and women should update hair styles, wardrobes and glasses. If
dated, these things can make a person look ridiculous.
• If your teeth are yellow from smoking or coffee, try an over-the-counter
• Fragrance and smell is an important attraction. Make sure you have a
shower before your meeting.
• If you have a beard, mustache or goatee, make sure it is trimmed well and
Dr. Bill Lampton, communication and media expert in Atlanta, Georgia, offers
some more helpful hints.
• The greatest way to make a positive first impression is to
demonstrate immediately that the other person, not you, is the center
of action and conversation.
• Closely related: You'll make a superb initial impression when you
demonstrate good listening skills.
• Be careful with humor. Although a quip or two might serve as an
icebreaker, stay away from sarcastic remarks that could backfire.
• Avoid having to be right. Confrontations with somebody you've just met
will destroy rapport before you even start building it.
• Be aware that your speaking style impacts the first impression.
Listeners judge our intelligence, our cultural level, our education, even our
leadership ability by the words we select--and by how we say them. Don’t
use bad language, use proper grammar and speak in an easy relaxed
Understanding what is known about the potency of first impressions, it is wise of
any serious minded professional to heed the advice of the experts. Knowledge is
power and practice makes personal presentation perfect. Adjust your persona
and take advantage of first impressions by making yours above reproach.
“Success comes to those with integrity, those that are resourceful, and those that
make a fabulous impression!” – Michelle Sterling