The impression of yourself that you display to others is composed of a multitude of micro-behaviours. These are tiny fleeting verbal and nonverbal signals which wield significant power in your social world. And it is these micro-behaviours which can help you build executive presence, earn you respect, and make the difference between a good outcome and an outstanding one.
But this power is compounded by the fact that you often aren’t aware of these behaviours. You don’t necessarily spend enough time and energy making sure you get them right. And you come across to those around you as insecure, uneasy or worse. This can lead to missed opportunities for maintaining the interest and engagement of others during a conversation or meeting or cause you to show signs of weakness in situations which require resilience and perseverance.
So how do you make a good first impression? Here are five insights which can help you make your mark:
You don’t have to be aggressive to build executive presence
Although some people employ an authoritarian or aggressive stance, others choose a more social form of dominance which focuses on clear and direct body language and eye gaze strategies which help then deal effectively with conflict. Both types of dominance are equally effective and illustrate that “executive presence” doesn’t necessarily require you to be aggressive or authoritarian to those around you.
First impressions are made faster than the blink of an eye
First impressions are instantaneous. By some estimates, they are made within 34ms of first meeting someone. This is faster than a blink of your eye. Initially, these impressions are formed based on visual information – your facial expression, your body posture, what you are wearing for example. Then, as you start to move towards the person, then your choice of interpersonal distance, your gait, body movements, and gestures begin to play a role. Finally, as soon as you open your mouth to say your first utterance of “hello”, the amplitude, intonation and pitch of your voice will all be used to build up a picture of what you are like as a person. Pay attention to all of these to make those first few seconds count.
Dominance and trustworthiness are written on your face
The face is one of your most emotionally expressive features. And science tells us that people judge how dominant and how trustworthy you are just by looking at your face. Having a face which is perceived to be authoritative and/or trustworthy is therefore usually a good thing. And although you can’t change the physical features of your face, you can think about how your facial expression may be playing a role in how dominant and trustworthy you appear to those around you.
Align your body and face to create a coherent impression
To cope with the multiple streams of information providing cues about what you are like, the brain of your observer doesn’t analytically decode each stream separately. Instead, it creates a holistic impression using information combined from all streams together using an array of visual, auditory (and maybe touch and smell) cues and thinking of yourself as a series of sensory cues that the other person will be experiencing and interpreting can allow you to take an outsider’s perspective of yourself. This helps you make sure that you are creating a coherent impression, without any anomalies.
Use your eye gaze to engage and grab attention.
When embarking on social interaction or conversation with someone, then it is not just what you are saying that is important. Other micro behaviours such as the direction of your eye gaze and regularity of blinking also count. Your eyes are unique in the fact that they can both perceive what’s going on around them, and even send signals outwardly to other people through your gaze pattern. They can be used to grab someone’s attention or to signal engagement and interest. Use this multifunctionality first to read the other person and then adjust your eye gaze accordingly to maximise engagement.
This is why videoing yourself is so illuminating – because it allows you to see these behaviours in plain sight. And by seeing them first hand, you can start to make them better, to tweak them. To suppress the ones that hinder your presence, and boost the ones that help it. This will ensure that you are respected by others, can earn their trust and become that go-to person whose opinions and advice are sought after.
Synaptic Potential – organisational neuroscience – people strategies