First Impressions Matter

by Barbara Chatzkel

first impressions matter

You have only one chance to make a first impression. Decisions about doing business with you or trusting you are made almost instantaneously. As a business person, much of your day is spent giving and receiving information. But what first impression are you giving and why is it important? 

Research findings show that:

  • People form their first impression of you very quickly. The statistics range from one-tenth of a second, to three seconds, to seven seconds, to ten seconds.
  • When you walk to the front of the room to begin a presentation, the audience has formed strong first impressions before you even say, “Good morning.”
  • The information used to form that first impression is overwhelmingly nonverbal. Depending on the situation, your nonverbal presence accounts for between 60 percent and 93 percent of first impression data. 
  • “You have only one chance to a make a first impression” rings true. And it is hard to change that first impression. 

Think About: As a savvy businesswoman, you spend significant time ensuring your “brand image” reflects your mission, vision and values. But do you spend the same amount of time making sure your body language sends the same focused message? You are your company’s biggest marketing campaign — make sure your body language reflects your message. 

Understanding and mastering business body language helps you present your message as effectively as possible. It also provides you with the tools to understand the person across from you and whether or not her words match her body language broadcasts. 

Business body language, nonverbal communication that transmits information, is comprised of five “broadcast centers.” In order of importance, they are:

  1. Face
  2. Feet and Legs
  3. Arms
  4. Torso 
  5. Hands 

Each of the five broadcast centers sends out its own strong signal, yet each of those messages is only part of the whole. It requires combining the spoken word, the appearance and all the different body language signals to decipher the full message. If you see only my hands moving, you’ll get some sense of my message and my emotions, but it is only a fraction of the full story. 

Body Language Tip: If there is dissonance between what a person is saying and what her body is broadcasting, go with the body language signals. In general, body language doesn’t lie.

An example of a contradiction is a person saying words that seem to mean agreement but shaking her head from side to side — a strong visual message that says “no.” If you were not observing the person during your conversation, you could have taken action based on perceived agreement when the body language signals were a definite “no.”

Another example of the importance of observing body language: You are standing and speaking with several people and one individual is saying she supports the viewpoint you are proposing, but when you look down at her feet, the feet are not pointing directly at you but are rather at a 30-degree angle. The feet and legs don’t lie; what they are saying is the person “has left the room” and is no longer engaged in the conversation, and you cannot expect her support. The real message could have been missed if you weren’t observing the body language, which was speaking more loudly than the words. 

Becoming aware of your body language and the body language of others is the first step in becoming a body language pro. Over the next several months, take time to observe others’ body language in different situations — in an open office setting, at a networking function, during a sporting event, or in a presentation. Note the similarities and differences in the situations. 

Connect with Barbara, The Body Language Pro. Let me know what you observed and what lessons you learned in your “body language field trips.”

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