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Understanding First Impressions

David Sherry
4 min read

I am just getting back in the groove from SXSW. It’s basically an event based on serendipity.

Sure, you plan a few meetings, but the best encounters are hard to plan for…

First impressions are hard to predict.

That means that the only strategy seems to be being ready for them at any given time. Even more importantly, we know that first impressions kick our emotions and instincts into high gear when we meet someone (or something) new.

We can’t shake our visceral gut reaction to that, it’s in our chemistry.

So logic is out the window, and in a split second, we make predictions and judgments that will cast a tint of color to any future interaction we have with that person.

Here is the general list of questions that spin through our head subconsciously within a minute of meeting someone…

  • “Do I like this person?”
  • “Do I trust this person?”
  • “What can they do for me?”
  • Possibly, “if they can’t do anything for me, what can they do for someone I know?”

If this sounds selfish, don’t worry about it, we all do it unconsciously and despite ourselves, we still build meaningful relationships based on mutual love and respect.

If you’re worried about this and are now thinking how can I  “try to impress,” “try to control the answer those questions” or “try to appear” as someone who’s trustworthy or who has value…

This is precisely the opposite of what you should do.

Dating Coaches

In the deep musty realms of terrible dating coaches, people will speak ad nauseam about different concepts for creating an initial attraction.

This could be something you wear, or something you say like a “pick up line.”

Not a single one of these things is helpful.

Not a single person has gotten lasting and effective results from them.

Not directly.

If you approach someone shyly, and forcibly spit out

“Hey, I couldn’t help by notice you… who are you?”

you will be rejected.

If you approach someone with so little care in the world that you’re basically saying it to yourself and say,

“Hey, I couldn’t help by notice you… who are you?” as you walk past them towards the bar….

You probably will get a look of interest and probably not a rejection.

Deep down, we all know it’s all about how you feel as you say something rather than what you say.

This is why an outrageous comment said with the right tone can have a positive reaction, and memorizing the “right” thing to say never works.

Firm Handshakes, power stances, eye contact… irrelevant

These are signals that stem from us naturally when we are feeling confident, and are forced imitations when we are trying to prove ourselves to someone else.

When we interact with brands and businesses, the best way to sum up what can our visceral reaction to them is encompassed by one word: authenticity.

“Trying” is the opposite of authenticity.

Any specific micro-detail that we sense in the other person as “trying” to be something is picked up on immediately.

This then chips cracks into trust factor component of meeting, because if you are trying to be something you’re not, then you’re hiding who you are from us.

And if you are hiding something, we lack information to assess, which makes us skeptical.

In sales this is when a prospect thinks…

“Sure you’re giving me this… but what are you going to ask for in return?”

This dynamic puts the two people in the interaction at odds.

This is when a prospects asks you for your credentials or experience.

Or maybe when someone at the bar says…

“I’m Sorry… WHO did you say you were??


True Impressions

So by now I’m probably giving you anxiety about your first impressions.

So let me dial that back down with some relief, there is good news, and lots of it.

The first bit of good news, and what what no one has ever told you about first impressions is this:

A first impression doesn’t happen at the moment of first contact…

A first impression occurs at the moment of the first authenticity.

The geek kid in the movie who always tries to talk to the girl at school… he’s invisible!

His crush only notices him upon the moment a circumstance brings the two together, possibly in some type of savior scenario.

This is precisely at this time that the geek boy becomes visible, and this is the first True Impression.

Our first True Impression is when we allow ourselves to be seen without trying to be seen.

Let’s say that same person walked into a bar and was immediately rejected by the person they approached.

20 minutes later they approach again and say…

“Hey, I don’t know why but I totally freaked out as I came over to talk to you, I think it’s because you seem like my type and I didn’t want to screw that up…. Be honest on a scale of 1-10 how awkward was it?”

A true first impression creates an emotional charge and connection such that someone’s entire perception of us can’t help but feel a small attraction.

It puts two people on the same side of the table.

It is possible that this can happen on first contact, and this is what we should strive for.  This is also what dating people call “chemistry.”

But, it’s also possible that this happens at a later date if you have more opportunity and your comfort level with someone grows, so fear not.

Our goal as marketers and leaders is to allow ourselves to make a true first impression each time, by showing up visibly in the way that we want to be visible.

By making a true first impression, by being true to ourselves in it.

The attempts to show up as something other than we are are precisely those that sabotage our connection.

If you DO want to show up as something different, you can!

But you’ll have to change such that this new you is truthful.

And for this category, the great irony (and the other bit of good news) is that we only need to show up as ourselves.

This is the only solid base which you can rely on to create positive first impressions on an ongoing basis.

This is the plan, to having no plan in your first impressions.

In the end, authenticity is a type of moat for you and your brand.

It’s authenticity as a form of anti-fragility.

Wherever you go, wherever you show up, you have everything you need to make a great impression.

It’s thinking you DON’T that’s the problem.

As always, this is your circle of trust and reflection, so let me know if I can be of help,

xx David