Make any stranger your BFF with our first impressions masterclass

Friday, September 4, 2015

We all know that those first crucial moments with someone new have the potential to go horribly wrong. So, with personal and professional encounters in mind, we sought expert advice on creating a top-notch first impression.

It's all very well being told to walk tall, keep your pecker up, be strong, be hot, be awesome.

The basics of making a good first impression are all right and proper. Make eye contact. Smile. Firm handshake. Ask questions. Wear deodorant. Generally, don't do this.

But if you feel self-conscious, scared and well, icky, nothing is going to change that overnight. And certainly not for the two seconds it takes someone to size you up over a desk, a glass of Pinot or a buffet table. Or so I thought.

It turns out that's not quite true. You can do yourself some big favours. You can open the door to friendship, love and employment with a few simple moves. After all, your true colours are beautiful, so don't be afraid to let them show. No, really. Don't be.

Don't act more confidently, be more confident

Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy's TED talk will really bend your mind. She shows that changing your body language before you enter a stressful social situation can totally change your experience of it.

If you adopt a 'power pose' – arms wide, hands on hips or behind your head – for just two minutes, you will increase your levels of testosterone. This is the hormone that makes you feel assertive, dominant and comfortable. It will also decrease the levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in your body.

It's a simple way to blast through anxiety. As Amy says:

Our bodies change our minds… and our minds change our behaviour… and our behaviour changes our outcomes. 

You could work a power pose on a train platform, in the lobby before an interview or in the toilet in a bar. Anywhere. No one would ever know. But they would notice that you were more relaxed, more approachable and more yourself.

Let your foibles do the talking

In our slick, Instagrammed, uber-networked world, it's easy to forget that the things people first notice – and grow to love about you – are often your quirks. They are notable precisely because they are out of the ordinary. They are what makes you memorable and unique.

You don't have to be outrageous to steal the show. My friend Lily told me:

Straight after uni, I went for a graduate scheme interview. I wore a bright pink pashmina (along with the standard black skirt and a shirt). I didn't get on the scheme, but the manager did call and offer me another job. He said I’d stood out and they’d nicknamed me 'the girl in the pink scarf'.

There are so many similar stories. Just little flashes of you that make all the difference. Anna, a rare woman who has made it in the building industry, said:

I once went for a group interview. There were at least 50 people in the room, going for just five jobs. I got one of them. Later on, when I asked why, they said I'd made a joke, so they remembered me.

Give people a reason to remember you. Give them something to mention next time. A hook. A memory. A meaningful first impression.

We're all learners

I find it really helpful to think of myself as a learner when it comes to social interactions. I try to wear my invisible L plates with pride.

Think about it. Even if you totally flunk a first impression, there will be other people, other parties, other interviews, other conversations. You've undoubtedly learned something in the process.

It's a bit like 'the power of yet' that Carol Dweck talks about in another fabulous TED talk. She encourages you to develop a 'growth mindset'. So you're not a social butterfly? Not yet. Not the life and soul of the party? Not yet. There is plenty of time.

It's that kind of perspective that actually allows you to relax, focus on other people and enjoy the moment. Which will, in turn, help you make a really positive first impression. Almost inadvertently.

Dale Carnegie, author of the world-changing How to Win Friends and Influence People, said:

You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.

What better way to put another person at ease – and create a magical first impression – than to show you're interested in their story.

That said, there will be the occasional bore who is only too happy to wax lyrical all evening on some fantastically dull topic. I'm afraid I don't really buy into the idea that you should feign fascination at all costs. It seems inauthentic. But then, even if you're bored, you’re learning. Kaboom! You win every time.

Put it together and what have you got? Friends, love, a different future. Just maybe.

See also: 4 Common traits of incredibly engaging people

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