New Research on Making the Best First Impression

May 13, 2014

by Dan Solin

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While interactions via computers have increased dramatically, initial contacts with prospects usually still require face-to-face meetings. Successful advisors are aware of the importance of first impressions. Without a good first impression, advisors risk failing before they even discuss the merit of their services.

How long do you think it takes others to form an impression of you?

How about a tenth of a second? That’s the conclusion of a study by Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov, published in Psychological Science. Undergraduate students from Princeton University were shown pictures of male and female actors and were asked to give an opinion about various traits. Exposure time as short as one-tenth of a second was enough for the participants to form an opinion.

This wouldn’t be startling if the only trait being evaluated was attractiveness. It wasn’t. The participants also formed views about trustworthiness, likeability and competence.

One of the easiest ways to improve the first impression you make is to dress appropriately and well.

Do I prefer wine or beer?

I gave a lecture years ago to 200 trial lawyers in New York City. It was an intelligent – if somewhat jaded – audience. Naturally, the lawyers were concerned about the impression they made on juries.

After I introduced myself, I said, “Before I start, I want to ask you some questions about myself.” I called for a show of hands: “Do I vacation at an expensive resort in the South of France? Or do I prefer more basic accommodations like Club Med? Do I prefer wine? Or beer? Am I affectionate with my children? Or distant and aloof?”

Almost everyone in the audience had an opinion. The majority of the attendees thought I preferred the expensive resort and wine and that I was aloof with my children. They were wrong, but that’s beside the point. Just by looking at me at the podium and hearing me introduce myself, they had formed definite impressions. We all do this all the time.

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