How to make a good first impression

“You never get a second chance to make a good first impression!”

The saying exists for a reason – studies have shown that in the first seven seconds to two minutes of meeting someone, we form an impression.

Being able to make a strong first impression puts young people on the right foot for entering the big wide world of job interviews, networking, building relationships and taking on leadership roles.

Everyone has at least one story of a disastrous first meeting. Sometimes these turn into funny anecdotes of how a relationship began, but more often than not these are stories of awkward and embarrassing moments!

While you can recover from a bad first impression, it is far better to nail that first meeting.

Speech and drama classes help young people develop the right skills for making a strong first impression.

We often have adult clients at Viva Voice who meet our younger students as they leave their sessions and students arrive for afternoon classes. We can’t tell you how many adult clients have come in the next week saying, “I was so impressed by that young student I met”. They comment on students who are able to lead a conversation, maintain eye contact, and show genuine interest in meeting an adult.

We’ve mapped out the key skills our students learn that contribute to them knowing how to make a great first impression.

Make eye contact

There is no clearer way to convey attention to someone than with eye contact. Sometimes we do it accidentally – who hasn’t accidentally made eye contact with the same stranger twice on the bus? But when meeting someone or the first time, we want to purposefully make eye contact with them.

Eye contact shows interest, signals that you want to connect, and reassures someone you’re giving them your full attention.

It’s not to say you can’t look away – you don’t want to stare them down! Eye contact generally lasts for three seconds, no longer, and can be shorter. It should feel comfortable and natural.

When feeling nervous, you might feel overwhelmed at the thought of looking someone in the eye. We teach students that eye contact is not something to be afraid of, and that looking at people can actually feel reassuring. There’s nothing nicer than looking at someone in an audience and see them smiling back!

Smile

We’re not advocating for smiling allllll the time, but when meeting someone for the first time it’s a friendly and polite thing to do. It shows that you’re a confident and friendly person.

As an added bonus, when you see someone smiling, the automatic reflex is to smile back.

Smiling not only makes the person you’re meeting feel good, but makes you feel good too.

We love this quote from Thich Nhat Hanh:

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

Introduce yourself

When a new student begins at the studio, we ask current students to introduce themselves by saying their name, what year they’re in, and share a fun fact about themselves. When students do this, they straight away make the new student feel comfortable.

Introducing yourself opens the dialogue between you and the other person.

It’s important to say your name clearly and make sure the other person can hear it. Once you introduce yourself, the other person will hopefully do the same but if they don’t, you can always say “I didn’t catch your name”.

Give a firm handshake

In a bright (if distant) future, where casual physical contact is safe once more, the handshake will jump straight back to being critical to greetings. 

Symbolically, a handshake is about meeting the other person half way by reaching out to greet them.

It’s not an arm wrestle or a competition of strength – you don’t want to crush the other person’s hand! Nor do you want to offer a hand that has no tension at all, as you can come across as uninterested, nervous or uncertain.

You want to hold out your hand confidently, with strong fingers, and clasp the other person’s hand warmly, firmly, and evenly.

Making eye contact while shaking someone’s hand is also really valuable and shows genuine interest in the other person.

Present well

Whether we like it or not, appearance is one of the first things people notice, before we even speak.

I remember well a story told by one of my teachers at acting school. They said that they had finished school, were trying to make an impression in the industry, going to plenty of auditions and not landing any of them. Not even getting a call-back. Now this is expected for fresh actors in the industry, but after a while they were getting very frustrated because they thought they were doing some really good work. Perplexed, they asked their housemate for advice. “Maybe wash your hair?” Said the housemate, “Probably have a shower and a shave before you go to the audition. And iron your shirt”.

Viva students learn that there’s no one way to dress for an event – performers and speakers dress differently depending on the context of the performance or presentation – but there’s always an appropriate option.

A well-prepared performer will plan ahead and think about the nature of the performance or presentation, the level of formality, and what sort of clothing would be appropriate for the event.

Planning ahead means you will feel relaxed on the day and already have chosen what you’ll be wearing.

Breathe

Breath is the genesis of life as we know it.

When we are nervous we tend to breathe rapidly and shallowly.

Slow, deep breaths lower stress levels in the body.

Measured breaths slow your heart rate, which in turn takes you out of the flight, fight or freeze response, which in turn relaxes your muscles, which in turn makes you a much more friendly and open person to meet.

Deep breathing increases the oxygen in the brain which stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system – this relaxes your cardiovascular, endocrine and digestive systems! It sends the message to your brain to calm down.

Pause

Take a moment. When you’re nervous about meeting someone it can feel like you left the tap on and the words just won’t stop flowing out of your mouth!

We teach students to make an effort to pause between sentences.

Pausing gives you the opportunity to breathe and collect your nerves.

You don’t have to fill every silence. It’s natural for a first meeting to have some silent moments; by letting these happen you will appear more confident than if you anxiously fill them.

Conversation is a two way street, so you want to leave space for others to contribute.

Be punctual

Being punctual is a sign of respect for the other person’s time and is an indication of your time management skills.

Some people are compulsively early, some people run reliably late. Knowing your own tendency allows you to plan ahead and stay calm.

Being punctual helps keep any nerves at bay – you don’t want to be stressed about running late!

Speech and drama students learn that punctuality is a part of building strong rapport, and also vital for a performer. No performer wants to miss rehearsal time or be late for a performance!

Trust yourself!

Learning to trust yourself is a lesson in itself, and one that our students are very familiar with! If you can trust your preparation and ability to communicate or perform your best, there’s no better way to calm your nerves.

If you have prepared yourself as well as you can, trust your preparation.

You can’t necessarily control how a meeting will go, but you can give yourself the best chance at making a good first impression by being well-prepared.

We teach students that it’s not only their most recent lessons or rehearsals that have helped them prepare for their performance, it’s all the years of classes before then as well. You carry all that experience with you every time you walk on stage or step into a meeting!

Trusting in yourself is at the core of confidence. It will shine through to make a favourable and lasting first impression.

If your child needs a little encouragement developing speaking, communication or performance skills, we’d love to help. Our classes help students find confidence to be themselves in any situation, and set them up for life. Get in touch to find out more.