Within the first 7 seconds of meeting, people will have a solid impression of who you are — and some research suggests a tenth of a second is all it takes to start determining traits like trustworthiness. So what can you do to make a better first impression?
Making the Most of an In-Person Meeting
There are different situations when making a first impression counts, but let’s start with the most traditional: meeting someone in person, whether it’s in a client meeting or at a networking event.
Dress and groom appropriately. This should go without saying, but people will judge you on your looks long before they judge your words or actions. After all, it only takes a fraction of a second to start making snap judgments.
Smiling is shown to be a psychological signal of altruism (among other positive correlations). When you smile at someone, it makes her more likely to trust you, and it makes you seem more approachable. Flashing a smile in those first 7 seconds of meeting someone may be all it takes to forge a stronger first impression and connection.
And watch your posture: Keeping good posture, with your shoulders back and your head held high, makes you seem more confident and powerful to other people, strengthening your first impression. It may also increase your own feelings of confidence, giving you more power in your interactions.
Showcasing a Storefront
Of course, if you have a physical store or establishment, you’ll also need a way to make a first impression with new customers and prospective customers who walk past your location. First, make sure you’ve invested heavily in your business’s signage; this is often the first thing people will notice about your storefront. You’ll want to choose something creative and original so you stand out from your competitors, but also something that falls closely in line with your brand.
Make cleanliness a priority. Any sign of dirt or disorganization may turn customers away from your store, even if everything else about your offer is strong. Make sure the inside of your store is as clean as possible, and spend time organizing and cleaning the outside of it as well by washing the windows, cleaning the sidewalk, and keeping your parking lot in order. In cluttered or dingy stores, people assume that if the business owner doesn't care, why should they?
Work to catch people's eye — you can’t make a first impression if you never grab prospective customers’ attention. Spend some time making your storefront more eye-catching, putting your best items on display in the window, or utilizing structure and color to make your store “pop” compared to the others on your street. Note what draws your eye in when you're walking or driving by, and try to replicate the details that fit your brand.
Presenting a Website
If your business exists primarily in a digital environment, your website will be your main source of first impressions. Website visitors won’t make an effort to read your entire site’s content before making a quick assessment about staying, so keep things concise. They’ll only give you a few seconds — in fact, visitors may form an impression of your site in as little as 50 milliseconds. A concise tagline or headline at the top of your site should let customers know exactly what they can expect from the rest of your content.
Include photos and videos that evoke a feeling. Those 50 milliseconds may not be long enough to guarantee even a tagline will be read; instead, convey emotions and the power of your brand through photos and videos. One entrepreneur I know showcased his business's dedication to the environment by displaying photos of his team volunteering at a national park alongside pictures of the brand's eco-friendly products. This both humanized the brand and underscored its commitment to a cause.
Make your website intuitive to use. New visitors should be able to instinctively know where to find your products and be able to navigate your website cleanly, without any hesitation. If they’re confused in the first few seconds, they’re going to leave. Investing in some usability testing can make a huge difference in the functionality of your site and the way prospects view you.
No matter how you’re forming a first impression with your customers and contacts, it’s important to work quickly to avoid facing the consequences of a negative or nonexistent first impression. The more you practice, the more confident you’ll be, and the more you prepare for your future interactions, the more targeted your approach can be.