When I was growing up, Easter Sunday was a celebrated occasion, much like it is today. A big part of the fun was dressing up in our new pastel dresses with matching shoes, jewelry and fancy Easter bonnets. To top off our splendid outfits, my father gave my sister and me one last accessory: freshly made corsages. And before we would head out to Easter Sunday mass he would announce, “You girls are certainly dressed to kill.” The irony was lost on us at the time but the point was well taken. We knew we were going to make a stunning first impression! First Impressions Matter
You may have a great speech, spot-on PowerPoint slides, and years of industry experience, but if the first impression you give your audience doesn’t match your expertise, your message may fall flat. Research tells us that listeners make up their minds about presenters within the first 30 seconds of seeing the presenter take the podium. That means how you look, what you wear, and how you carry yourself will set the tone for your entire presentation. Following are some first impression guidelines to keep in mind as you prepare for your next presentation.
- Dress appropriately. When you’re giving a presentation, always dress in accordance with the most senior person in the room. If the presentation is to a group of your peers with no higher rank, then dress at least one level up. Remember, no matter how knowledgeable you are on the topic, people will judge you based on what they see; therefore, you want to look professional at all times.
- Groom yourself well. Make sure your hair is combed and styled appropriately. While trendy, disheveled-looking haircuts may be in vogue these days, let the hairbrush do a little more work than usual for this occasion. Make sure your hair is out of your eyes and not covering too much of your face. If you’re a man with facial hair, trim it so it looks neat. Forgo the drama—neat is best.
- Make strong eye contact. As soon as you take the podium or the stage, make eye contact with your audience. For sustained and powerful eye contact, look at one person for a full three to five seconds. Look right into their eyes, connect with them, complete an entire thought, and then move on to the next person. Take your time when you are speaking to another person and enjoy the connection.
- Consider your facial expressions. No one will connect to a speaker who is deadpan or who seems disinterested in being there. Therefore, from the moment you stand to speak, smile, raise your eyebrows, and use a full range of facial expressions. As you talk, vary your facial expressions to reflect the content of your presentation, keeping your facial expressions congruent with your message.
Keep It Going Obviously, you should continue employing all these suggestions throughout your presentation, not just at the beginning when you’re making a first impression. The key is to start strong so you can grab people’s attention and respect, and then continue on that high note throughout the entire presentation. When you do, you’ll not only start with a great first impression; you also make a lasting impression that leads to greater credibility and higher esteem.
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