How to Make a Good First Impression: 17 Strategies for Success

You only have one chance to make a first impression. In the first few seconds of meeting someone new, they will form a lasting opinion of you based on what you say, how you look, and your overall demeanor.

As the old adage goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. According to research by Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov, it takes only a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger from their face. In that blink of an eye, the other person is judging your trustworthiness, competence, likeability, attractiveness and aggressiveness.

Whether you‘re heading to a job interview, meeting a new client, or attending a networking event, nailing that initial encounter is essential. A poor first impression can impede your ability to get hired, land a sale, or build a relationship. On the flip side, a great first impression opens doors and sets you up for success.

Clearly, a lot is riding on those crucial first moments of contact. So how can you put your best foot forward and authentically impress? By preparing in advance, honing your in-person presence, and following up effectively, you can learn to consistently make a positive first impression.

Set Yourself Up for Success

The path to a great first impression starts before you even come face to face. Proper prior planning prevents poor performance, as they say. To mentally and physically set the stage for success:

1. Do your homework.

Prior to a meeting or interview, always research the company and person(s) you‘ll be speaking with. Browse their website and social media profiles. Discover their products, services, history, mission and values. Armed with background info, you‘ll feel more confident and be able to ask relevant questions. And by working their lingo and priorities into the conversation, you‘ll come across as engaged and informed.

2. Practice your introduction.

Don‘t wing your opening lines. Rehearse a concise, compelling summary of who you are and why you‘re there. Brevity is key – limit your intro to 30 seconds or less. Include your name, a brief professional description, your value proposition, and the goal of the interaction. Having this polished prelude at the ready guarantees you‘ll put your best foot forward.

3. Dress to impress.

Your clothing communicates a lot about your personality, professionalism and attention to detail. Choose attire that is appropriate for the context and conveys that you are polished and put-together. Err on the side of being slightly overdressed rather than too casual. Make sure clothes are clean, pressed and fitted. Keep accessories minimal and tasteful. Good grooming also goes a long way in creating a positive overall impression.

4. Be punctual (or early).

Nothing makes a worse first impression than running late. It starts the interaction off on a sour note by signaling disrespect and lack of organization. Map out directions in advance and always give yourself a generous time buffer. Arriving a bit early demonstrates eagerness and gives you a moment to collect your thoughts, review your notes, and get in the right headspace.

Make an Impressive Entrance

Once it‘s go time and you‘re making your entrance, here‘s how to knock their socks off and radiate the right vibe:

5. Exude confidence.

Without uttering a word, your body language speaks volumes. To convey confidence and capability, keep your posture erect. Stand up straight, square your shoulders, keep your head up, and stride in with self-assurance. Taking up more physical space with an open stance makes you seem powerful and credible.

Make sure your handshake matches your demeanor. A firm (but not crushing) grip shows professionalism and authority. Combine it with a warm smile and direct eye contact for the optimal first impression.

Nervous gestures like fidgeting, playing with your hair or bouncing your leg can make you appear ill at ease and unprepared. Stay still and poised to project unflappable poise under pressure.

6. Smile authentically.

Your facial expressions are crucial to first impressions. A genuine, glowing grin is universally welcoming and shows you are happy to be there. Smiling makes you appear friendly, trustworthy and excited to interact.

To make your smile as sincere as possible, think happy thoughts as you‘re entering the room. Visualize a joyful memory, a beloved pet, or a hilarious joke. Focusing on positive emotions will naturally bring out a real, un-forced smile.

Timing also matters. Flash your pearly whites early in the interaction to lead with warmth and openness. Smile when you first lock eyes with your conversation partner and beam as you shake their hand.

7. Make meaningful eye contact.

Your gaze is one of the most potent tools for connection. Meeting the other person‘s eyes demonstrates interest, confidence and engagement. It makes you appear present and attentive.

As you‘re conversing, aim to make eye contact for 60-70% of the time, as any more can seem intense or intimidating. Gently look away occasionally to avoid an uncomfortable stare down. If you‘re addressing a group, make a point to shift your focus and move your eyes from person to person so everyone feels included.

Eye contact can feel awkward or unnatural at first, but keep practicing. With repetition, locking eyes will start to seem like second nature. Soon you‘ll be using your gaze to effortlessly put people at ease.

Build Genuine Rapport

Making people feel good is the cornerstone of a positive first impression. Focus on forging a sincere connection through attentive, authentic conversation:

8. Use names liberally.

The sweetest sound to anyone‘s ears is their own name. When you sprinkle your conversation partner‘s name throughout your discussion, they will subconsciously feel more valued and respected.

If you‘re prone to forgetting names, make a conscious effort to memorize them ASAP. Some tricks to try:

  • Repeat their name out loud as soon as they introduce themselves ("Nice to meet you, Jake!")
  • Connect their name with a famous person or character ("Ah, Britney, like Britney Spears!")
  • Associate their name with a unique physical feature ("Sarah has such a warm smile.")

Not only will using names win you brownie points, it will also help jog your memory next time you meet.

9. Ask open-ended questions.

One of the best ways to get people to like you is to prompt them to talk about themselves. When you ask questions and express curiosity about others, it shows you‘re interested and engaged.

Try to go beyond basic small talk by asking open-ended questions that require more than a one-word answer. For example:

  • What inspired you to get into this line of work?
  • I‘d love to hear more about your role – what does a typical day look like for you?
  • What has been the highlight of your career so far?
  • What exciting projects are you working on right now?

As you‘re listening to their answers, don‘t just wait for your turn to talk. Process what they‘re saying and respond with insightful comments or relevant follow-ups.

According to research from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people who ask lots of questions, specifically follow-up questions, are perceived as more likable compared to those who ask fewer questions.

"Compared to those who do not ask many questions, people who do are better liked and learn more information from their conversation partners."

So play the role of attentive interviewer to make a stellar first impression and gather valuable intel at the same time.

10. Find common ground.

We like people who are similar to us. That‘s why unearthing a shared interest, experience, or opinion can help you form a fast bond with a new acquaintance.

As you‘re chatting, be on the lookout for any commonalities. Perhaps you‘ve worked for the same company, vacationed in the same city, or graduated from rival colleges. Hone in on any tidbit of information you can relate to and build on it to establish affinity.

You can also keep an eye out for any photos, decor, or cues in your environment that may lend themselves to connection. Strategically scan their office for any sports memorabilia, travel mementos, or beaming pictures that you could comment on. Spotting something you also love or admire gives you an easy way to relate to the other person.

Reinforce the Rapport

The period following your initial interaction is just as important for solidifying a good impression. To stay top of mind:

11. Always say thanks.

Your mother was right – good manners matter. Expressing appreciation is not only polite, it‘s also a way to acknowledge the other person‘s time and efforts.

Close out your conversation with a heartfelt "thank you." Mention a specific part of your discussion that you found valuable or a trait you admire about them.

Then follow up within 24 hours with a brief email reiterating your gratitude and recapping any next steps. Promptly delivering on any promises you made during your meeting also reinforces your integrity and helps you earn trust.

12. Stay on their radar.

If you want to develop a real relationship, you can‘t just meet and disappear. It takes ongoing interaction and communication to form a true connection.

Find respectful, relevant ways to keep in touch over time. A few ideas:

  • Invite them to an event you think they‘d enjoy
  • Forward an article that made you think of them
  • Congratulate them on a recent achievement or milestone
  • Introduce them to another contact who could help them
  • Share an update on a project you‘re working on together

Well-timed touchpoints show you‘re thinking of them and create more chances to bond. Just be careful not to overdo it and become a pest. Quality trumps quantity when it comes to follow-ups.

Bringing It All Together

First impressions are powerful. How you show up and carry yourself in an initial meeting can make or break your ability to land a job, close a deal, or form a friendship.

While it may seem like some people are born with natural magnetism, the good news is that anyone can learn to create an excellent first impression. By preparing in advance, fine-tuning your presence, focusing on the other person, and following up appropriately, you can consistently wow in those crucial first moments of contact.

Armed with these research-backed strategies, you‘re ready to go out and dazzle. Incorporate this guidance into your next introduction and notice the difference in how others respond to you. With some practice, you‘ll transform from awkward to awesome and be able to build meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships with ease.

So what are you waiting for? It‘s time to put your best self out there and knock some socks off. Go get ‘em!