A second is all it takes. When we meet a new person, face to face or online, in that tiny window of time, the subconscious part of our brain (the limbic brain,) will have done what is referred to as, ‘thin slicing’; it will have made a whole load of judgements and assumptions about that person which will affect how we respond to them and/or respect them for the foreseeable future.
In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell talks about a study that was conducted in the 90’s by Psychologist, Nalini Ambady, at Stanford University. Ambady showed a group of students three, 10 second videos of teachers teaching with the sound turned off. The students had no trouble deciding how effective each teacher was. The results from 5 second and then 2 second clips were remarkably consistent and matched up entirely with those from students who had been in the teacher’s classes for an entire semester.
From just 2 seconds the students were able to make scarily accurate judgements about the teacher’s honesty, likability, competence and professionalism.
Indeed, US Venture Capitalist and author of ‘The Start-up Community Way’, Brad Feld, remarked that, pretty much every time, he made up his mind about whether he’d invest in a company during their very first meeting.
In another instance, a friend of mine started a new job during the first UK lockdown and didn’t meet her colleagues face to face for a some time. There was one person she’d had a call or two with and had come away with the impression that he was constantly grumpy, uninterested and disengaged. When she eventually met him face to face, she was shocked to find out that he was actually really forthcoming and charming.
Often, the frantic world we live in doesn’t allow for a second chance. If decisions are made so quickly about us in job interviews, in pitches and presentations, in webinars and zoom gatherings… how can we make sure that we’re giving an immediately good impression?
Confidence is an abstract concept that is hard to pin down and quantify. The definition is: ‘the feeling or belief that one can have faith in or rely on someone or something’, and surely that is an impression we want to give? So how do we achieve this? Well, body language is a huge part of it. Even if we’re not feeling particularly confident, we can make sure we look it. Firstly, open up the chest, make sure your shoulders are relaxed and slightly back and that you’re sitting or standing up straight. An open/tall posture says ‘inclusivity’ and ‘in control’ where as a closed one spells out ‘defensiveness’ and ‘untrustworthiness’. Secondly, smiling! A smile goes SUCH a long way and will, in turn, make the other person feel subconsciously happier. (For more on confidence: 5 ways to increase your confidence)
Much as I wish this didn’t factor in the equation, the way we look has a profound affect on the way we are perceived. How I like to handle this one is to wear something that shows a bit of character. (Usually a fairly bright, patterned shirt – something that says ‘fun and professional’.) Even online, the way we look speaks volumes, so it’s worth giving it a bit of thought.
This not only applies to our own appearance but the appearance of our virtual background, our office or the coffee shop/restaurant we choose for a meeting place. All of these things have a big impact on our interactions.
3. Be yourself:
If you’ve done any personal branding or self development courses, you may well have a clear idea of what your message is, so bare that in mind. If not, just have a think about your objective for the meeting and don’t pretend to be anything you’re not. People invest in people and can tell when you’re being genuine or not.
4. Be Present:
It is so obvious when someone turns up to a meeting distracted. Even on the computer. You can absolutely tell when their mind is elsewhere and it leaves you feeling undervalued – a feeling that certainly won’t inspire a second meeting. So how to combat this? If time is tight, simply take 3 deep breaths to focus your attention towards the meeting, pitch, interview or whatever it may be. If time allows, spend a good 15 – 20 minutes beforehand going over research, revising your questions/answers/pitch, and physically/mentally preparing for the event. (For more on this: 2 minute warm up for focus and energy And How to bring the right kind of energy to a video call)
5. Focus on the other person:
Lastly, but possibly most importantly, turning your attention towards the person/people your speaking to makes a colossal difference to how they feel about you. If someone can tell that you’re genuinely interested in them, they will come away feeling valued and uplifted. It’s so easy to get completely wrapped up in what we want to say, what we want to put across and what we want to achieve, but this self-centred approach is in danger of coming across as just that – self centred. A person who’s attention is focused on others is always more attractive than a person who’s attention is focused on themselves.
Points 1 – 3 all take a bit of prep and require ‘self-focused thinking’. But after your preparation and personal work is done, have a go at turning your attention outwards and see where it gets you. Next time you make a first impression, it’s sure to be a good one.