I tend to be fairly introverted when meeting people for the first time, especially in large group settings.
I often get nervous or anxious when first arriving to a party or industry event, particularly when I don’t know many people who will be there. It all seems a bit overwhelming and I typically think more about myself and if people will like me instead of actually enjoying the experience.
I usually warm up and relax after a little while, but I have always dreaded those first few moments. And the discomfort of the introduction phase has led me to avoid certain social situations altogether. Therefore, I have been on the lookout for ways to be more confident and at ease when meeting new people. And I know that this is critical because people decide whether they like someone within the first few seconds of meeting them.
Until recently, I haven’t had a go-to system when meeting people for the first time. But I have now learned that there are a few incredibly easy things to do to ensure a great first impression. It all comes down to three things, according to human behavior expert Vanessa Van Edwards: your hands, your posture, and your eye contact. In Van Edwards’ excellent book Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People, she details the three most important things you can do to make a powerful first impression.
Show Your Hands
“The absolute easiest thing you can do to improve your first impression is to keep your hands visible”, says Van Edwards. This means keeping your hands out of your pockets and in plain sight whenever you meet a new person. The simple sight of your hands puts people at ease and makes you seem more trustworthy, well-intentioned, and likeable. Van Edwards notes that job candidates who use more hand gestures in their interviews are more likely to get hired, and the most popular TED talkers use more than double the amount of hand gestures compared with the least popular TED speakers.
You also want to go in for the perfect handshake when meeting someone new. Van Edwards says the skin-to-skin touch of a handshake produces the trust-inducing hormone oxytocin, so make sure to opt for the full shake instead of a more distant wave, high five, or fist bump. Never pass on the opportunity to shake someone’s hand and make sure it is effective by keeping your hand dry, vertical, and firm.
If you keep your hands visible and give a great handshake, you are well on your way to a memorable first impression.
Stand Like a Winner
People like to be associated with winners, and we are sized up right away (like it or not) to determine if we look more like a winner or a loser. In fact, it has been shown that having a high degree of confidence is more important than reputation, skill set, or history to earn the trust of potential clients.
Standing like a winner means projecting confidence when first meeting someone. Van Edwards says the perfect posture (what she calls Launch Stance) includes the following four elements:
- Keep your shoulders back and down
- Keep your chin, chest, and forehead straight in front of you or slightly up
- Keep space between your arms and torso
- Keep your hands visible
If you maintain this broad-stance posture when meeting someone new, you will showcase confidence and a winning demeanor, helping you to make a great first impression.
Make Eye Contact
The third and final element of making a powerful first impression is using the right amount of eye contact. Similar to a good handshake, eye contact produces the trust-building chemical oxytocin. We like people who look at us more, and therefore it is important to resist the urge to shyly look away when we meet someone new. People (myself included) often worry about making too much eye contact, but that is unlikely to happen. Van Edwards says that we should hold eye contact for 60–70% of the time when having a conversation with someone. It is especially important to hold steady eye contact during the first few seconds of an interaction.
There you have it — implementing just these three easy steps greatly increases your chances of making a great first impression.
I certainly don’t expect to altogether eliminate my nerves or anxiety when entering a big social gathering or work event, but I am now able to change the way I approach these situations. By focusing on these three habits — visible hands, winning posture, and strong eye contact — I am now able to enter new situations with confidence and build trust right away.
These simple steps are helping me to make a memorable first impression, and I hope they do the same for you.
Once you’ve mastered these critical first few seconds of an interaction, read this article to know where to go from there. Vanessa Van Edwards’ book Captivate is also highly-recommended.
Andrew Merle writes about living well, including good habits for happiness, health, productivity, and success. Subscribe to his e-mail list at andrewmerle.com and follow him on Twitter.