The Power of First Impressions

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Conventional wisdom holds, “You only get one chance to make a great first impression.” Is this true? And how often do we consider the implications of such a statement?

Communication studies courses such as business, professional speaking or interpersonal communication extensively explore the topic of first impressions. Research suggests that impressions of others are formed within the first seven seconds of an interaction.[i] This means that we are already being evaluated before we utter our first word. Consider a speaker who arrives at the podium, disheveled, frantic, and struggling to arrange their note cards. The speaker releases an audible sigh before beginning the presentation. In this scenario, the speaker has likely damaged his or her credibility with the audience, before sharing a single word.

Sociologist Erving Goffman asserted that people attempt to manage their impressions and compared the process to portraying a role in a play. Goffman believed that humans adapt their behavior, based on whom the interaction is with. He also suggested that humans seek to portray themselves in the most favorable light possible.[ii] In other words, human interactions are a type of performance.

Best Ways to Manage First Impressions

Communication studies students learn and practice ways to best manage first impressions. Both audience awareness and the study of nonverbal communication are crucial to this ability. Audience awareness, an important topic in speaking courses, requires the presenter to thoughtfully consider the type of information the audience wants to hear, and how best to deliver that information. By being mindful of their audience, speakers can maximize the likelihood of engaging their listeners. Additionally, managing nonverbal cues is an essential activity in managing impressions. An upright, yet relaxed body posture communicates confidence and positivity, while pointing your toes toward the other person (whether seated or standing) can signal your interest in them. And don’t forget a genuine smile, which can generate a positive impression.[iii]

By: Krista M. Kimmel, senior lecturer, EKU Department of Communication




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