March 17, 2015

23 Scientific Ways to Make a Great First Impression

Read more about Business

You've got just seconds to make a great first impression. Lean on these scientifically proven ways to win over the other person right away.

Once someone has made up his mind about you — which usually happens within seconds of your first encounter — you’re stuck with that image. You’ve got to make that first impression count, not just during job interviews and blind dates but every time you meet someone. After all, as you’ve heard, you’ll never get a second chance to make a first impression.

But how to go about creating a good impression is something that psychologists and other researchers have been exploring for decades, and there are hundreds of studies on the subject. To keep you from having to sift through all the facts and figures, we've condensed the most significant findings into a list of 23 ways that are scientifically proven to make your first meeting with someone new a positive experience.

© Paul Tridon (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

1. Meet in person

The Internet makes it possible to connect virtually with just about anyone, anywhere, but research shows that you're better off talking to people face-to-face. In one study, people were asked to rate each other after viewing a video of a person speaking and then engaging in a 3-minute conversation with that person. Overall, the test subjects viewed one another more negatively based on what they saw in the video versus their in-person meeting.

2. Mind your appearance

Your facial appearance has an immediate impact on the kind of impression you make, so it's important to always look your best. Researchers from Princeton University asked students to rate photos for attractiveness, likeability, competence, and trustworthiness. They found that it takes less than one-tenth of a second to form a judgment based on your face alone.

3. Keep facial expressions in check

Beyond good grooming, you should also take care to be aware of the way you use your face to express yourself. One recently published study showed that having a naturally happy expression makes you seem more approachable and trustworthy, while sporting a frown sends a signal that you're not so friendly.

4. Perfect your handshake

The firmer your handshake, the stronger impression you're likely to create. A study conducted at the University of Alabama found that a hearty handshake directly correlated to stronger personality traits like being extroverted and emotionally expressive. A weak handshake, on the other hand, was seen as an indicator of shyness. So give a good grip and a shake; don’t just hang your hand out there and hope for the best.

5. Make eye contact

Looking someone in the eye the first time you meet is important if you want to be taken seriously. Psychologists at Northeastern University asked study participants to rate the intelligence of strangers based on how they interacted with other people; overall, those who sustained good eye contact scored the highest ratings.

6. Maintain the right posture

Exuding confidence comes naturally to some people, but if you're not one of them, changing how you stand can make you appear more self-assured. Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy has shown that using a “power pose” for as little as 2 minutes increases testosterone and decreases cortisol levels. By having a powerful posture and a confident stance, you will feel that way — and people will see you that way.

7. Give the other person the floor

Talking to a new person can be intimidating. If you're nervous, you can end up rattling on and on, which doesn't make you seem very cool, calm, or collected. According to Cuddy, you're better off letting the other person speak first to make them feel more at ease. Letting them take the lead makes you appear less threatening and increases the likelihood of the other person warming up to you.

8. Let the conversation flow

If you're talking to someone you've just met and there seems to be a lot of "ums" and "ahs" sprinkled throughout the conversation, that has an impact on how they perceive you. A study from researchers at SUNY Stony Brook found that pausing frequently while speaking to someone gives the impression that you don't know what you're talking about.

9. Maintain a steady pace

Aside from not letting the conversation lull, you also need to pay attention to how quickly or slowly you're speaking. A Brigham Young University study found that when someone's speech pattern is slowed down by 30%, they appear less fluent, less persuasive, and less truthful to the person who's listening to them.

10. Pay attention to your tone

Talking to someone on the phone can have just as much sway on someone’s first impression of you as meeting them in person. According to Scottish researchers, people decide whether you're trustworthy in the 300 to 500 milliseconds it takes to utter a simple "hello." Keeping a lighter tone and using a particular pitch (which one works best depends on if you are male or female) are both associated with higher levels of trust.

11. Dress the part

The clothes we wear directly influence what others think of us, and that's especially evident when you're trying to land a job. Research has shown that wearing traditional attire for the type of position you're interested in can help you snag a higher salary, and it also makes you appear more capable.

12. Choose the right shoes

Aside from picking the right outfit, you also want to make sure you've got the appropriate footwear. According to Omri Gillath of Kansas University, people make automatic assumptions about your age, income, and overall personality based on the kind of shoes you're wearing. Choosing shoes that are practical and affordable gives the strongest impression of agreeability.

13. Be expressive

If you want to be more likable the next time you meet someone new, don't be afraid to put your personality on display. According to psychology professor Frank Bernieri, a concept known as the “expressivity halo” dictates that when people communicate with one another in an expressive and animated way, it makes others more receptive to what they have say.

14. But don't overdo it

Getting your nose, lip, or eyebrow pierced is one way to show off your personality, but there's a cost in terms of how such adornments can affect other people's opinions of you. Overall, research indicates that people with multiple facial piercings are viewed as less attractive and less intelligent, particularly more so for men than women.

15. Keep tattoos covered up

Although tattoos have become more accepted in general, getting inked may not always work in your favor socially. Women especially tend to reap more negative effects for their body artwork, with one study showing that having tattoos decreases attractiveness ratings and makes people more likely to believe you're promiscuous. We’re not necessarily agreeing with the findings, but you may want to wear long sleeves when you’re about to meet someone whose first impression of you will matter. You can push up those sleeves after they’ve gotten a chance to know you.

16. Dab on some makeup powder

Wearing makeup can make you feel more attractive, of course, but it also makes a difference with how strangers perceive you. When asked to view photos of women wearing natural, professional, and glamorous makeup looks versus those who wore none, subjects rated the made-up faces as being more attractive, competent, likable, and trustworthy.

17. Check your own perceptions

How you feel about yourself and your physical appearance can play a significant role in influencing how others see you and where you fit in. According to Stanford professor Margaret Neale, who conducted extensive research on self-perceptions of attractiveness, believing that you're attractive can lead you to be more positive in your interactions with others.

18. Find a common bond

Forging a connection with a new person is easy once you realize you have shared interests. Whether it's a book or television show you enjoy or a person in your social circle, the “similarity attraction hypothesis” holds that having even just one thing in common can help you develop a strong link and make a good impression.

19. Walk the walk

The way you move affects the assumptions people make about your personality. A looser gait, for instance, can make you appear more adventurous and outgoing while a slower pace may signal that you're anxious or fearful.

20. Be on time

If you're going for a job interview or meeting with a potential client, the last thing you want to do is be late. In one UK study, 51% of employers said that the interviewee’s punctuality was one of the most important factors used in making hiring decisions.

21. Watch your body language

Speaking eloquently is important to making a first impression, but it's what you don't say that packs the biggest punch. According to a study by UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian, body language accounts for 55% of how we perceive others versus just 7% for the words we use.

22. Be careful about mirroring

When you're trying to attract a romantic partner or interviewing for a job, mimicking physical cues is a subtle way to get the other person's attention. The trick is knowing when you should and shouldn't do it. A University of California-San Diego study found that when job applicants mirrored the actions of an unfriendly interviewer, they were ultimately seen as less competent.

23. Keep your smile looking bright

Giving someone a genuine smile can make you seem more inviting; it's the number one thing that people notice when meeting you for the first time. According to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, 45% of people say that a good smile is the most attractive feature a person can have, so it pays to keep your pearly whites in tip-top shape.

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