The Secret to Making a Great First Impression

In this article you’ll learn the main principle at play when meeting new people and how you can make a great first impression every time.


There’s an old saying you might be familiar with:

“You only get one chance to make a first impression.”

It’s true.

There are no second chances to meet someone for the first time.

Now here is something you should be aware of…

In psychology, there is something called the Primacy Effect. This is the condition by which your first impression about someone (or something) causes you to interpret their future behaviour in a way that is consistent with your first impression.

Say, for example, you’re at a party and spot someone who is clearly unkempt and quite loud and your first impression of him is that he is dirty, lazy, and obnoxious.

(First impressions are judgements. Like it or not, we judge each other all the time.)

Your first impression of this man is like a “pair of glasses” you put on which causes you to see everything he does as an outcropping of his dirty laziness and obnoxiousness.

Later that evening, “Mr. Unkempt” tells you he had the cleanest most organized apartment in town and he often volunteers at the library. How could this be? This man obviously doesn’t even care enough about himself (or respect others enough) to take a shower and put on some clean clothes before coming to a party. He is clearly a liar.

Really? …or is that just your interpretation based upon your first impression (judgement) of him?

Taking the glasses off

Let’s say that, after the party, you learn that the reason this man was speaking so loudly was because he was a recent victim of a gas explosion at his apartment complex which damaged his hearing.

He was unkempt because he lost all his belongings in the explosion and spent the last two nights homeless. He arrived at the party uninvited because the party’s host was a good friend and he dropped by to ask if he could spend the night. He didn’t know there was a party. His friend agreed and invited him in where he began to immediately mingle with the guests. This is when you first noticed him.

The party was a nice temporary escape for this man who wanted desperately to forget his troubles for a while, so he didn’t mention his troubles to anyone.

It’s likely that your view of this man has now changed.

People continue to think thoughts about you that are consistent with their first impression of you… at least until they get compelling new information to the contrary. So, while it is possible to change someone’s mind about you, it takes time.

How Do Others See You?

When you are out networking, others will continue to see you through the lens they formed when they first met you. For this reason, consciously making a good first impression is a real time-saver. It saves you from having to repair any negative impressions down the road.

How others see you determines how they feel about you, and it’s this feeling that they remember when they think of you later.

This feeling is all important when you are making your first impression.

This feeling is your primary focus.

Try This Experiment

Here’s a way to prove this to yourself. Pick up a magazine that has a lot of pictures of people’s faces in it. Open it up to a page where you see a man’s face. Close your eyes and tell yourself that this man is a child molester. Tell yourself he has sexually assaulted and killed children. Now open your eyes and look at his face. What do you notice?

Notice how you look for all the evidence in his face that might reveal his evil nature. Notice how you feel as you look at him. Is your stomach churning just a little?


Now close your eyes again. Take a deep relaxing breath and tell yourself that you made a mistake. The man in the picture is really the man who saves children from child molesters and is a philanthropist who set up a foundation to heal children of their past emotional trauma so they can go on to live a happy life. He’s a Savior. Now look at the picture again. What do you notice now?

Notice how you look for all the evidence in his face that reveals his goodness? Notice how you feel more compassion towards him?

Same guy, same face. Different judgement, different feeling.

This feeling is the effect of judgement. The reverse is also true:

When you affect someone’s feeling about you, you affect their judgement about you.



Yes it takes practice for some, but it’s the best thing you can do when you meet someone for the first time. It’s surprising how often people don’t realize that they’re not smiling when they first meet someone.

A smile is a non-verbal communication that conveys relaxed confidence, enthusiasm, happiness, and acceptance. A smile is a welcoming gesture that says, “I am happy to see you and welcome you into my space.” The person on the receiving end of your smile will feel welcomed.

In neuroscience, it has been found that we have what are called “mirror neurons” which fire-off in response to what is being witnessed. Seeing someone frown causes the mirror neurons to fire a “frown sequence” and you feel slightly unhappy.

Mirror neurons are what help make empathy possible.

When you offer someone a genuinely warm smile, their mirror neurons will create an “inner smile” and a feeling of being accepted and welcome – offering a sense of belonging.

This feeling within them helps steer the primacy effect.


Because the other person’s feelings are your main focus, your next step is to be genuinely interested in – and ask questions about – what they love. Why? Because love is a good feeling.

Ask questions like:

Do you live with family?
What do you love most about what your work?
What do you enjoy doing most when you’re not working?

Once they begin speaking about what they love, ask even more detailed questions about this subject in order to learn more. While you may not be personally interested in their hobby of building model sailboats, you can be curious about what it is about it that makes them love it so much.


If you are insincere, you will be sabotaging your efforts to make a good impression. You can’t have long-term success simply pretending to be interested in someone.

Everyone is an expert in reading body language. We all subconsciously pick up on people’s cues and what we are left with is a final feeling.

You might have on occasion found yourself saying, “I can’t put my finger on it, but something about that guy isn’t right.” Here you picked up on some inconsistency that led you to feel some doubt concerning the other person’s authenticity.

People know. Don’t try and fool them. You’ll only be fooling yourself and wasting time.

I’m sure you prefer doing business with people who genuinely care about your well-being. So, be that person for others.

Your goal is to leave people with the impression that you care about them. The best way to do that is to actually care about them. The most successful people in business actually care about their customers.


People’s first impression of you will be based on how they feel after they first meet you.

Your goal is to make them feel good.

Here’s how:

Care about the people you meet.
Smile warmly.
Ask questions about what they love.
Listen intently to learn more about what they love and why.
Do not speak to impress them. Speak only to ask questions and then listen.
Gently smile as you listen.

When they think of you later, your face will come to mind along with the feeling you left them with. If you follow the above steps, the feeling they recall will be one of being heard and cared for. Their judgement (first impression) of you is that you are a trustworthy person. Trust is the key element of all good relationships – business or personal – and your ultimate goal in networking.

If they’re having a bad day, yes their bad mood can affect their impression of you but by helping them to focus upon something they love, you’ll also help improve their mood. If they are completely non-receptive to you, politely excuse yourself and go meet someone else.


Rule of thumb: Always leave people feeling better than when you met them.

BONUS rule of thumb: Leave people a few minutes before they’re ready for you to go. They’ll want to see you again.


Now go make some good impressions!


© 2014 Trent Janisch –


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