Making First Impressions

Are you aware of what you have communicated when you walk into a room or stand in front of an audience, without saying a word?

Imagine you are in the audience and the speaker, with head down, wanders to the front of the audience in her house-painting clothes with splatted colours on her shabby hat, shirt, jeans and shoes. What would you be thinking?  Whether you know it or not, you have made a judgement about the speaker.

First impressions matter. People in the audience will make a snap judgement of the speaker based on how she, or he, looks. Research shows the people will make that judgement in one to four seconds before a word is spoken.

Dr Louise Mahler, an Australian body language and confidence expert, says that how you present yourself is wrapped up in your ‘voice along with body language and mind set’. It is important to recognise that your non-verbal communication can create unconscious messages that undermine your presence.

The judgement is based on the speaker’s appearance and this relates to personality traits and unconscious biases.  In that very short time the speaker will be seen as trustworthy, competent, confident, warm, friendly, or not having these attributes.  That is, the audience has formed an opinion of the speaker.

This judgement influences how the audience will perceive their presentation.  First impressions are important because they last well beyond that moment. This is because of the primacy effect, which means that when a person experiences something before other things in a sequence, they remember the first thing more.  Research demonstrates that about 90 percent of the listeners’ first impressions of a speaker remain unchanged after hearing the content of the message.

You only get one chance to make a first impression. Your appearance, body language, demeanour, mannerisms and how you dress are the components which the brain uses to make the first impression. A great first impression will have your audience hanging on every word.

There are some things you can control:

  • Be on time – good excuses for being late will not wash with an audience
  • The way you enter the room – look confident which includes upright posture, head held high, smile, good eye contact, warm gestures, confident steps, walk with purpose
  • The way you walk to the stage – exude confidence using the techniques in the previous dot point
  • Your dress – look like a speaker, not a painter, gardener or a sweaty sports person in bike shorts. Dress smart, well groomed, and appropriate for the audience and the occasion
  • Your stance at the place of delivery – look like a confident speaker, smile, let your face light up and raise your eye brows, good eye contact, both feet firmly on the floor, ribs lifted to maintain upright position
  • Your facial expressions – be happy to be there, embrace inclusiveness with your body language, feel confident so your facial expressions show confidence
  • Be aware of any nervous habits and eliminate them
  • Title of your presentation, if you have a title – this can capture the audience prior to your delivery.

There are things you cannot control:

  • Physical attributes – tall, short, large or small body frame
  • Pitch of voice – high pitch, low pitch, raspy voice
  • Audience biases

What can you do to address what cannot be controlled?

Two examples are:

If you are short – stand up straight with good posture and be seen and not hidden behind a lectern.

If you have a high pitched voice make a humorous comment about it, or perhaps joke about it. This way you and your audience will feel at ease.

Remember the saying, ‘smile and the world smiles with you’.

Build your first impression skills with the things you can control. Practise them often. Being on time, walking confidently with purpose, dressing appropriately and being happy when you are with other people can be practised any time, not only in front of an audience when making a presentation.

To put these tips into practice, click here to find a Group near you.

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