Make a great first impression

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1 June 2016
Written by Speak First Linked-in icon

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression” W. Triestof

Research has proven just how true this quote is. The opinions people form on meeting us for the first time rarely change. One study suggests it takes at least eight pieces of positive information to overcome a negative first impression. So if you get off to a bad start you may find it a challenge to recover from it.

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There are many factors involved in creating the right first impression. And because judgements are formed so quickly (within a matter of seconds), it’s important that you don’t leave anything to chance – you need to get it right straight away. So a little thought and planning about how you make the most of the first contact you make with people can make all the difference to your overall personal impact.

One simple model to follow when greeting someone for the first time is SOFTEN . Follow these six steps to make a positive first impression:


Smiling not only says a lot of good things about you – that you’re happy, confident, approachable and enthusiastic – it also sets off positive emotions in others, because smiling is contagious. You need to make sure your smile is real though. A real smile can be recognised through the upward curl of the lips, which reveals your teeth, and ends with creases in the crows-feet area around the eyes. A natural smile slowly floods across your face and then slowly fades. If you switch it on too fast, or let it drop too soon, it doesn’t feel sincere. So when you move from one person to another, give everyone their own, individual smile.

Open body language

Ensure you face the person you’re meeting, rather than turning away and use open gestures, rather than folding your arms or crossing your legs. If you use open body language you will appear more confident and interested in the other person.

Forward lean

Another way of expressing warmth and an interest in someone is to subtly lean forward when you meet them. If you lean back and away from someone it can appear that you don’t like them or aren’t interested in what they have to say.


In Western European, US and other cultures one of the first things we do when we meet someone is shake hands. It’s often the first and only time business people touch each other and an important way of making a connection. People read a lot into a handshake, so you need to get it right. Yet most of us are never taught how to shake hands. Here are some simple tips for the perfect handshake:

  • Not limp, but not a crusher – it should be somewhere in between. Practise on friends and family and get them to feed back on the strength of your handshake.
  • To get a real sense of connection with the other person you need to go ‘web to web’ – the web between your thumb and first finger has to touch the web between their thumb and first finger.
  • Two shakes of the hand is usually the right number for most people, although this can vary across cultures.
  • Try to keep your hand straight, with neither an upturned palm (submissive), nor your hand on top of theirs (taking charge).
  • Don’t make the handshake too long or too short – one or two seconds is usually about right. If anything, hold it just a fraction of a second longer than you would normally.
  • Don’t hold the person at arm’s length. Bend your arm slowly to bring you closer and to show that you’re allowing them into your personal space to connect with them.
  • Make sure your hand isn’t sweaty or clammy before shaking – do a subtle wipe if you have to!

If you don’t meet someone’s gaze when you greet them, you will appear unfriendly, shifty or uncomfortable. If you stare too long you might intimidate the other person. You need to hold the other person’s eye long enough to feel you have made a connection – a second or two should be about right. A way to test is that it should be just long enough to see the colour of the other person’s eyes.


A nod is an affirmative expression which helps you to build rapport. Giving a gentle nod as you shake hands – not too many nods, not too low, and not too quickly – will help you make the right impact.

Of course, as well as following the SOFTEN model, you must pay attention to your whole ‘package’. A book is judged by its cover, so other things to get right include:

What you wear – make sure your outfit is a good cut and fit and is formal enough for the occasion. Know what suits you and don’t flash too much flesh. Well-chosen accessories can bring you and your outfit to life and give you more impact.
Your hair – ensure it’s washed, brushed and styled well. You also need to be careful about facial hair – think about what impression a beard or moustache gives of you before growing one.
Your smell – we hope it’s obvious, but make sure you’re nice and clean! Also, don’t go overboard with perfume or aftershave – a dab can make you smell nice, but half a bottle will be overwhelming.

Following these tips will help you make the best possible first impression you can. If you would like to practise these skills and receive further advice on making a good first impression, developing rapport and improving your personal impact, our course Developing Personal Impact is for you. Contact us to find out more.