From when I started school, I distinctly remember my parents drilling into me the importance of making the right first impression. Shoes were always shined, hair brushed, clothes ironed and nails clean. Now, as a parent, I do the same with my children.
The importance of a making the right first impression cannot be overestimated, because first impressions influence later impressions. James Uleman, a professor of psychology at New York University and researcher on impression management, explains: “You don't get a second chance to make a first impression. In spite of the congeniality of many professional gatherings, judgments are being made and impressions formed all the time.’ He adds, ‘The impression you create may affect future job opportunities, collaborations or other important matters.”
In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell suggests that our first impressions are fairly accurate and actually stand the test of time. “It is a central part of what it means to be human,” Gladwell states. “We thin-slice whenever we meet a new person or have to make sense of something quickly or encounter a novel situation. We thin-slice because we have to, and we come to rely on that ability because there are lots of situations where careful attention to the details of a very thin slice, even for no more than a second or two, can tell us an awful lot.”
So, what’s the first impression your network has of you? Professional? Intelligent? Ambitious? Lazy? Sloppy? Disinterested? According to research by Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov, it takes about 100 milliseconds to make a first impression – yep that is all!
That’s a nanosecond of time to ensure that how you want to be perceived is in reality being understood and registered. There are numerous online articles stating that cognitive scientists say it takes 200 times the amount of information to undo a bad first impression as it takes to make a good one.
While image and appearance are one way to create the right first impression there are other elements to be cognisant of – being present, knowing your stuff, being prepared and being confident in yourself. Nick Holzherr, CEO at Whisk.com supported this in an interview I recently had with him.
“First impressions are critical. I find that people with the best network are always present. They are on form at all times – friendly, well-dressed, they hold themselves well, add value to conversations, and make others feel amazing. They are genuinely interested and engaged in the conversation. They are present when they turn up – always. This is something I have seen, watched and learnt from and try and emulate in the way I network to support others. First impressions really do count.”
Whether we like it or not, appearance is our first filter – whether in person or online. Everything on the outside contributes to others’ initial impression of you. So, make it a good one. My mum would say, “Polish your shoes, dress appropriately, iron your shirt, press your pants…” Take control, because first impressions matter.