Making a Positive First Impression

Did you know it takes less than a tenth of a second to make a first impression?

You don’t even have to speak.

The expression on your face & your posture says it all for that magical moment when someone will label you whatever he or she decides.







It’s up to you.

The sad thing is most people don’t know the right way to carry themselves to make the impression they need or want the most.

My little girl dressed up for her 1st cotillion class

The reason I believe that’s sad is that these are basic “how to do life” skills taught to 10, 11, and 12-year-olds.

This week I had the amusing pleasure of chaperoning my daughter’s cotillion class, –which for those who don’t know- is etiquette and social grace instruction common in the southern part of the U.S.

Girls wear white gloves and boys wear ties.

It’s my impression the girls love it and the boys grin and bear it… or at least pretend they don’t like it. (My daughter’s group text after the fact indicated some of the boys were actually enjoying themselves.)

The particular evening I chaperoned was the first class of this cotillion season; the instruction was very basic and was an excellent reminder for us all.

The things they taught are what is necessary in polite modern society and very important if you want to present yourself as a proper, intelligent and educated adult.

While listening to the teacher it dawned on me how poorly adults practice what was being preached, and how guilty even I am of slipping in this area now and again.

Here is your lesson of basic etiquette
that can make or break your first impression.

  1. Be Intentional: Understand the first point that was made here; Someone’s first impression of you is made in less than a second. Intentionality is a must.
  2. Posture: Stand up straight. Rounded shoulders and downcast heads are signs of low self-esteem and low confidence. If you don’t show confidence in yourself, why should anybody else?
  3. Fidgeting: Don’t.
  4. Arm Position: Body language is a topic we’ve covered before (here’s a link) with an emphasis on how to hold your arms and hands. This is a biggie.
    1. Crossed arms are a big no-no. This position tells people several negative things.
    2. Hand(s) on your hip(s) should be avoided because they indicate anger, irritation, and aggressiveness.
    3. Either:
      1. Have your arms down by your side (feels awkward at first but does not look awkward)
      2. Gently clasp your hands
      3. Form a “steeple” with your fingers which indicates confidence in what you are saying or presenting
  5. Expression: It takes less energy to smile than it does to frown. Mark your facial features with a pleasant expression; you don’t have to go around with a toothy grin all the time; however, having at least a Mona Lisa smile is recommended.
  6. Hand Shake: There are multiple points for you when it comes to your handshake.Five Fingers: When it’s time to make contact a “five-fingered” handshake is necessary. That means that the slight webbed part of your hand between the thumb and forefinger should touch the same part of the other person’s hand so that all five fingers are in contact with each other. This is a sign of confidence. Firm, Not Hard: Have a firm shake, but don’t squeeze the blood out of someone’s hand
    1. No Dead Fish: This is the opposite of a handshake that’s too hard. It’s the one that is too soft. Think of how a frail and arthritic 90-year-old woman’s handshake would be… and don’t emulate it.
    2. Two-pumps: Too short is rude and can be off-putting – even sending the message that you may possibly be repulsed by the other person, and too long is creepy.
      Think of a basic waltz rhythm (a-one, two, three, four, a-one, two, three, four…). A-One is your grab (five-fingered, remember!), Two is your first “pump,” three is your second, and release on four.
  1. Eye Contact: Look people in the eye when introducing yourself, when receiving their introduction, and whenever you are speaking directly with someone. No need to stare them down, but maintaining steady eye contact shows you are engaged and interested in what the person has to say.
  2. Kind Words: A gentle compliment is always well-received, even if it is as slight as saying, “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
  3. Name Introduction: In most cases, it’s fine to just give your name, but in some networking situations you should also explain your position or reason for being there.
    1. Regular day-to-day*: “Hello, I’m First Last. It’s nice to meet you.”
    2. Business introduction*: “Hello, I’m First Last… Position with Company. It’s nice to meet you.”
    3. Casual social interaction, first meeting: “Hi, I’m First Last. It’s nice to meet you.”
    4. Casual social interaction, multiple meetings: “Hi, I’m First, Nice to see you again.”

*If you’re unsure if you’ve met the person before, you can always say “It’s nice to see you,” which is still kind, polite, and doesn’t put you in the position of being known as having forgotten the first meeting which someone else remembers.

All of this seems extremely basic. That’s because it is.

It’s so basic that many people have forgotten about many of these things.

Even I become so comfortable in situations from time to time that I don’t give my first and last name. I’ll simply say “Hi, I’m Jane.”

It’s a slip-up, and frankly, it’s rude.

It exhibits a lack of decorum and knowledge of proper etiquette, which is a pity because I went through cotillion and additional etiquette instruction; Frankly, Jane Mims knows better.

It’s something I am aware of and work to avoid replicating – but still, every once in a while I catch myself doing that.

There were many other things taught during this 90-minute “proper Southern etiquette” event including how to do the Foxtrot, a basic Swing Dance step, and the proper way for a gentleman to behave with his date at the punch table.

I’ll spare you the instruction on those things while you perfect a plan for your own personal positive first impression.

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