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Do you know this very special moment of the first impression? According to studies, we make a judgment about whether a person is likeable or unlikeable within 100 milliseconds to 30 seconds. But why is that and can we still influence how the first impression turns out?


What influences the first impression

We all know: First impressions last. That’s why it’s crucial to know how we can influence it positively. In my job, I get to know new people all the time. As such, it’s nothing out of the ordinary, and yet it’s a very special moment every time. The moment of the first impression. But what shapes it? Our previous experiences and adventures. Unconsciously, we categorize a person based on their body language (gestures and facial expressions), posture, voice, language and choice of words, and even clothing style and scent.

It is important to emphasize that body language, our voice and smell are far more crucial than what we say. This hardly matters at all. Accordingly, sensory stimuli are much more important than words, at least as far as first impressions are concerned. We may always be aware that we are all biased when we meet unknown people. All that we have experienced so far in connection with other people influences both our behavior and how the first impression of a person turns out.


Why trust plays a crucial role

In the professional context, however, there are additional factors. I quickly ask myself the question: Can I trust this person? Trust is probably by far the most important thing. My counterpart will also ask himself at the moment of first meeting: Can I trust this person and is he well-disposed toward me? Only when this first impression is positive and I have a good gut feeling do I take a closer look at a person I have never met before. Only then do I ask myself whether I can recognize the abilities of this person. And whether he or she also appears to be sufficiently competent.

A large number of studies show that around 85% of people pay attention to these characteristics at the first professional meeting. My personal experience teaches me that trust (and thus confidence building) is the most important factor. For competence to matter, people must first trust each other. If they don’t, people tend to perceive competence as something negative. You probably know this; a trustworthy, warm-hearted person who is also strong in other ways evokes admiration. But it is only when a tangible level of trust has been achieved that this strength becomes a positive.


How to make a positive first impression

If I could only give you one piece of advice, it would be this: Free yourself from pressure and be yourself. The more uptight you are in a get-to-know-you situation, the more difficult it will be to convey confidence, let alone competence. A healthy dose of self-confidence will enable you to face your business contact calmly and confidently. And how can you do this more easily than with a smile? A friendly smile connects. We are more likely to remember smiling people and rate them better.

In addition, pay attention to positive body language. If your gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice are characterized by openness and goodwill, this has a positive influence on how you are perceived by the other person. Maintain eye contact and turn toward your new contact. This signals genuine interest and open-mindedness. You appear confident and instantly more likeable when you maintain eye contact.

Your voice and the choice of words can positively underpin the first impression. Your own voice is as unmistakable as a fingerprint. The most important thing here is to use the keynote of your voice as often as possible. Only when you do this regularly will you be perceived as authentic and convincing. To do this, put yourself in a good mood and think of something pleasant. This not only supports your voice, it also makes you appear more relaxed. Your choice of words also influences – albeit to a lesser extent – how you are perceived by your counterpart. What matters most is how you say something, not what you say. Let your counterpart share your enthusiasm for a topic. This is how you convince.


This is how you show genuine interest and give your conversation partner space

Avoid taking over the conversation. Let your new business acquaintance take the lead in the conversation. This gives you the chance to ask good questions and positively support the course of the conversation. Closeness and trust develop when people feel understood; you achieve this by actively listening. Signal interest to your counterpart by asking specific questions and repeating and supplementing what has been said in your own words.

Do your homework. People love it when you know things about them that they don’t need to know. Whether talking to a potential business partner or customer. Find out as much as you can about everyone you meet, such as on their LinkedIn page or website. Unless it is a chance encounter and the meeting was planned in advance, this is crucial. You demonstrate competence and trustworthiness when you ask about the company and/or current challenges. You show your counterpart that you are thinking along and have a genuine interest. This leaves an excellent first impression.

Also, make time for small talk. It may sound trivial, but research has shown that meetings that start with just five minutes of small talk regularly produce better results. For me, a little humor never hurt either; being able to laugh together is incredibly relaxing, especially in this situation.


What you should never do to make a good first impression

Please put your cell phone away. Preferably as far away as possible. Although smartphones are a great thing, it is impossible to focus on your conversation partner at the same time. This is simply not the way to build trust. Nothing puts people off like a text message in the middle of a conversation or a quick glance at their mobile. When you engage in a conversation, you should invest all of your energy into it. You’ll find that conversations are more enjoyable and effective when you engage with them.


Always remember: No master has yet fallen from the sky

Every initial conversation is also a learning conversation – if both people can take something away from the conversation, this is already half the battle. It’s the little things that make a good first impression, and the importance of building trust cannot be overstated. Build trust and develop it steadily. The first impression is the first and therefore most important step on this journey.