Master Your Message for Maximum Impact

First Impressions

I like to travel in a jacket and dress slacks. People have often asked me why. The answer is that I think I get better treatment. Over many years, I’ve proven that theory to myself, although some of the examples may be arguable. This has not been a scientific study, after all.

I just got back from Kansas City. On the way there, I had to pick up a pre-booked rental car. The agent tried to up sell me, of course, and I had to tell her that the car was booked by a third party and I had no flexibility in price. However, I ended up getting an upgrade anyway – four levels above what was originally booked.

I’m convinced that if I’d been in jeans and somewhat unkempt in appearance, it would have been a different outcome. That’s human nature.

In his book “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell zeros in on the two seconds in which we make initial judgments on virtually everything around us. In studies, he found that subconsciously, we make very quick decisions on a whole range of factors. And that there’s a “second brain” that makes slower conscious decisions.

Picture of a man in a tuxedo.

I do a talk on being a better communicator. In the early stages of that talk, I have the audience do an exercise in which they break off into couples (must be strangers) and each one provides their first impressions of the other member of their 2 person team. I do this for two reasons:

  1. They soon find that they make judgments based on appearance (particularly dress), facial expressions, vocabulary, accents and body language.
  2. They realize the importance of how THEY present THEMSELVES – that we judge each other based on just those elements.

It’s obvious how this relates to presentations. Knowing your audience is of paramount importance. Being sensitive to how you want them to perceive YOU should dictate your dress and your mannerisms.

We can shape other people’s impressions of us simply by how we present ourselves. How we dress is a very important part of that judging process. For example, a safety talk in front of a large group of energy field workers would dictate the absence of tie or jacket. You want to “mirror” the appearance of your audience and not appear to be an authority figure in any way shape or form. You’ll also want to use some of the language they use. An executive meeting would require a sparkling appearance . . . your classiest attire, unless you address them as they’re relaxing at a resort location during a retreat.

It should also help you decide on your opening. Not the entire opening, but certainly the first part, which is generally referred to as “building rapport.”

The most successful means of opening is generally considered to be a story . . . with some humor (unless your talk doesn’t warrant it). This story should do a couple of things:

  1. Help set the tone for yourtalk, by displaying your personality and demeanor.
  2. Subtly tell something about you and how you may treat the subject you’re about to speak on – yourperspective, perhaps. Are you speaking as a legal authority, a television producer, a cook? Each might pick a different story, but from a different point of view.

Finding just a story can be difficult. While this method of starting a talk is considered by many to be the most effective, there are many other ways. A simple humorous story, a joke along the same lines as your subject matter, an analogy, a simple observation. Whatever you choose, make sure it helps set up the appropriate mood.

After the rapport segment is finished, you’ll want have a very strong line or two that gets your audience’s attention and sets up the theme for your speech. But we’ll get into that next month.

First impressions are being formed by each person you come in contact with. You know YOU do it, every time you see someone, much less talk to them. And everyone else is doing just the same thing.

We form an impression in only a few seconds. During the next 3 – 4 minutes or so, we can re-affirm that first impression or change it and form another one, based on interaction. However, after that 4 minutes are up and the impression has been formed, it will get much harder to change.

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