You Have to be Believed to be Heard: The Importance of First Impressions

I spend a good deal of my professional life in a courtroom. Testifying before a jury places me under a microscope. It has also made me more conscious about how I come across to other people…..both in and out of the courtroom. We are all marketing ourselves every minute of every day whether we are conscious of it or not. Others observe us and form impressions about us at lightning speed. Those impressions also shape the credibility others place on our expressed thoughts.

We can better shape the perception we make on others if we are aware of the ways people form impressions of others. A landmark study conducted at UCLA concluded that we need to be aware of the “Three V’s” of communication: verbal, vocal, and visual. When it comes to the believability of the message, the study found the following levels of influence on the listener:

Verbal 7%

Vocal 38%

Visual 55%

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the first and most significant impression is formed visually and usually within a nanosecond. Consequently, to make a first impression a good one, the following non-verbal tips are worth considering:

Eye Contact�
Does anyone trust a person who cannot look us squarely in the eye? Eye contact is a critical component of credibility. Look directly at the person at the moment of introduction. Avoid the eye dart; it sends a message of anxiety, fear, and nervousness to the listener, and undermines credibility.

“You never get a second chance to make a good first impression” said John Molloy, author of New Dress for Success. The most immediate visual impression we make is that of dress and appearance. Bert Decker, author of You’ve Got to Be Believed to Be Heard, Updated Edition: The Complete Book of Speaking…In Business and in Life, has a theory he calls the two-by-four rule. According to the theory, the impressions made in the first two seconds are so vivid that it takes another four minutes to add another 50% more impression, positive or negative, to that communication. Since those first two seconds are entirely visual, if a poor first impression is made, it takes a really long time to overcome the damage done. Consequently, the financial expert is encouraged to dress conservatively and appropriately for the venue in question.

Body Language
“Stand tall. The difference between towering and cowering is totally a matter of inner posture” said Malcolm Forbes, publisher of Forbes Magazine. Walk or stand with your spine erect and your head up; avoid slouching or walking with your head down.

Allow your personality to come through in subtle ways. Smile… want an expression of warmth and sincerity to become your first point of personal contact. Tonal quality is important and the words you use. Ask a trusted colleague to critique your tonal quality and offer suggestions for improvement. It will be worth the effort.

Careful attention to these often overlooked rules can make the difference when attempting to connect with anyone in the business world and can greatly expand your sphere of influence. Can you afford to ignore them?