Seven Seconds To Make a First Impression

Work + Money

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.

By Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.
Picture this: You're at a conference, meeting or social event, and you turn to the stranger standing next to you. She turns to face you and in seven seconds you've already decided whether you like her and whether she is competent, confident, and trustworthy. Sure, your opinion may change once you get to know the person better, but that first impression will always linger.
And as you're consciously and unconsciously evaluating her, she's also making the same kind of instantaneous judgments about you.
While you can't stop people from making snap decisions - the human brain is hardwired in this way as a prehistoric survival mechanism - you can understand how to make those decisions work in your favor.
Here are seven powerful ways to make a positive first impression.

  1. Adjust your attitude. People pick up your attitude instantly. Before you greet someone, think about the situation and make a conscious choice about the attitude you want to embody. Attitudes that attract people include friendly, happy, receptive, patient, approachable, welcoming, helpful and curious. Attitudes that are off-putting include angry, impatient, bored, arrogant, afraid, disheartened, and suspicious.
  2. Stand tall. Your body language is a reflection of your emotions, but it also influences your emotions. Before you say a word you can start projecting confidence and credibility by standing up straight, pulling your shoulders back and holding your head high. (BTW: Just by assuming this physical position, you will begin to feel surer of yourself.)
  3. Smile. A smile is an invitation, a sign of welcome. It says, “I'm friendly and approachable.” Smiling directly influences how other people respond to you. The human brain prefers happy faces, recognizing them more quickly than those with negative expressions. It is also a natural response for the other person to smile back at you.
  4. Make eye contact. Looking at someone's eyes transmits energy and indicates interest and openness.  A simple way to improve your eye contact in that first seven seconds is to look into the person’s eyes long enough to notice what color they are. With this one simple technique, you will dramatically increase your likeability factor.
  5. Raise your eyebrows. Open your eyes slightly more than normal to simulate the “eyebrow flash” that is the universal signal of recognition and acknowledgement.
  6. Lean in slightly. Leaning forward shows you're engaged and interested. We naturally lean toward people and things we like or agree with. But be respectful of the other person's space. That means, in most business situations, staying about two feet away.
  7. Shake hands. This is the quickest way to establish rapport. It's also the most effective. Research shows it takes an average of three hours of continuous interaction to develop the same level of rapport that you can get with a single handshake. Just make sure you keep your body squared off to the other person – facing him or her fully, that you have a firm (but not bone-crushing) grip with palm-to-palm and web-to- web contact. And hold the other person's hand a few fractions of a second longer than you are naturally inclined to do. This conveys additional sincerity and quite literally "holds" the other person's attention while you exchange greetings.

Every encounter from professional conferences to business gatherings presents an opportunity to meet people, network, and expand your professional and personal contacts by making a positive first impression. You've got just seven seconds - but if you handle it well, seven seconds are all you need!
Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., is an executive coach, author and keynote speaker who addresses association, government, and business audiences around the world. Her latest book and program topic is "THE NONVERBAL ADVANTAGE - Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work."  For more information, contact Carol by phone: 510-526-1727, email:, or through her websites: and

Go back to the Kitchen Share Digg Tweeter Facebook StumbleUpon Send To a Friend


  • Dr. Goman has given some great suggestions. Yet, it is my belief, if you really want to make a good impression in seven seconds if possible, you would not have time to think of what to do or what not to do, it seems if done Dr. Gomans' way, one would give the impression of being confused. My advice is just be yourself and if the relationship is to grow or a good impressionis to be made it shall. Be true to yourself, and let what is in your heart shine through, pray what is in your heart is good. Remember though what you put in your heart will shine forth.

    Posted by Naomi Jean Gray, 3 February 2010.

  • That is really cool.

    Posted by Loylty, 31 January 2010.