Seven Seconds to Success
It’s not fair, but it’s true.
Upon meeting a person for the first time, we form a lasting first impression that we will carry with us until a nearly overwhelming amount of counter information leads us to believe otherwise.
The saying “You only get one chance to make a first impression – good or bad” is utterly and irrevocably true. You’re going to be memorable, one way or the other. So it pays to be positively memorable, not the other, as that first impression will always make up a substantial portion of your personal brand. So, how to be positively memorable? That takes preparation and awareness.
What happens in that first seven seconds? All of our senses come into play. How do we make the other person feel? What do we look like? What signals – verbal and non-verbal – do we send? What is our body language like? Did we make eye contact? Or look away or down to the ground? What did we smell like? Did we have near-lethal “coffee breath”?
During the first seven seconds, critical parts of our brains are in high gear, even if we’re not aware of it. We mentally catalog and index all of these perceived elements – true, partially true or false – and then pack them firmly into one memorable collective first impression.
Then we walk away, thinking: “I’d need to get to know that person better,” or “What a nice experience, I hope we meet again,” or “Wow, what was wrong with him/her,” or “Glad that didn’t last long.” Later, when we’re asked: “What did you think of [name],” we will likely have a definite opinion, accurate or not, and we will likely serve up that opinion, accurate or not. Word of mouth is possibly the most powerful form of marketing, which means these kinds of impressions are critical.
Now, throw in one more variable: regarding any experience with another human being, people will probably not remember exactly what you said on any given occasion, but they will generally always remember how you made them feel.
Being appropriately aware of the importance of first contact and presenting oneself accordingly is a great way to start to maximize first impressions.
Have you ever considered that you can “smile” with your eyes? We reinforce our language with non-verbal communication, and it must be congruent if we are to be credible. Eye contact and accompanying facial expressions can be described as mocking, piercing, soft, steely, understanding, happy or smiling. If we’re not interested in a person, our eyes and body will telegraph that non-interest, even if we say otherwise.
Sincerity and humility are great tools to maximize first impressions. If you grid up your mental energy to actually pay attention to the person you’re meeting for the first time and decide in advance that you may actually like this person (without pre-judging), your eyes and your body will talk louder than your voice. Direct and friendly eye contact conveys confidence and acceptance. Full attention builds credibility and releases tension.
The person you’re meeting will generally always go with the non-verbal cues over the verbal ones, although if you’re muttering or mouthing meaningless platitudes, that will contribute negatively to the overall bad impression you’ve already started building. So don’t go there!
After reading this, one may surmise that it’s a good idea to put on a mask and punch out messages designed to win friends and influence enemies. But that only works for a while. Posers ultimately lose. But authenticity always wins.
To be truly successful in building memorable positive first impressions, you simply have to be yourself – but you must try to be the best version of yourself. Being authentic with appropriate energy, showing real interest in others (as opposed to talking or reflecting only yourself) and demonstrating a little confident humility will advance you quickly. It’s not about public relations or PR or marketing – it’s about you being you.
Break through the clutter and use those seven seconds to build lasting success!
P.S. Don’t forget to have your “elevator pitch” – the 30-60 second compelling summary of what you do and why you follow this passion – at the ready. A future blog will cover the elements of an effective elevator story.
By Michael Snyder, Managing Principal, The MEK Group