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How to make a good first impression (It’s about more than just your look)

Make sure to use the five senses for a great first impression

man in green suit jacket
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Whether it’s a first date, a job interview, meeting your fiance’s parents for the first time, or any other host of times when interacting with someone, mastering the art of first impressions is the most integral step in building rapport. Even though we are all taught from the beginning never to judge a book by its cover, human nature and the evolution of survival have instilled in us the instinct to decide on someone or something in the first few seconds. Long ago, on the plains, to avoid being eaten or conquered, to today, to avoid being scammed or having our hearts broken, the instinct lives on. And this goes so much deeper than your wardrobe.

But how do you develop the first impression? How do you master the art of attracting people to you, building a rapport from the ground up? The answer is to focus on the messages you send and how they translate to the person’s impressions of you. They take you in using their five senses, and therefore you have to consider each one of them to avoid offending one and leaving that person thinking something negative about you. Here are the five ways to master first impressions by focusing on the five senses.

Man in suit and blue tie
Roman Samborskyi / Shutterstock

Sight

While this seems self-explanatory, the image that you portray is vital. This is the definition of the cover of your book. The motto that I live by when I am considering leaving the house and how I appear is —Your outer appearance is a reflection of your inner self-image. To put it plainly, how you present yourself to others is how you truly feel about yourself. If you are well-kept, put together, groomed, and stylish, people will translate that to the rest of your life and your work. If you take care of yourself, you will care for them or their business. If you treat yourself with respect, you will treat them with respect. 

This doesn’t mean you have to wear a suit everywhere you go. Even though it can sometimes help (especially in a job interview or meeting a higher-up in the company for the first time), it does mean that you should always take pride in your appearance. Even if you wear a T-shirt and jeans, ensure they fit correctly and your jeans fit your body type. Make sure your hair is styled, or at least run a comb through so it doesn’t look like you rolled out of bed and ran out the door. 

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Smell

We’ve all been in the unfortunate position of conversing with a “close talker” with some breath issues. Whether it’s coffee, chronic bad breath, or plain bad oral hygiene, fewer social situations are worse and illicit the distinct desire for escape. Bad breath, body odor, and musky clothing make people want to stay away. That is why it is imperative to focus on how you smell if you want to attract people instead of repel them. 

  • Pay attention to your oral hygiene (keep mints handy if you drink coffee, enjoy tuna or garlic, or suffer from bad breath); that also means keeping that twice-yearly dental cleaning.
  • Ensure you have the right deodorant for your body and sweat type; if you are a heavy sweater, antiperspirant will be more effective than deodorant.
  • Make sure your clothing is fresh. The summertime causes many of us to sweat through our clothes and require more regular laundry. Try to get only a few wears out of your dress shirts or work polos before you wash them unless you sweat heavily.
  • And finally, learn the proper way to apply colognes and fragrances. There is such a thing as too much. Overpowering cologne is just as bad as unaddressed body odor. 
how to quit a job handshake
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Touch

It may be too soon to speak about the benefits or silver linings of a global pandemic that caused us to separate from each other, but one of the best things to come from the social distancing is people were forced to respect bubbles. Some people don’t like to be touched; others hug strangers. Whichever you are, be sure to wait until you know what the other person prefers. Don’t just come in for the real thing and try to hug someone before you get an opportunity to gauge the situation. Invading someone’s personal space is a quick way to turn them off from you right away.

Most commonly, handshakes are the accepted greeting. Be conscious of your pressure; too firm can needlessly seem aggressive, too limp can seem uncertain, and turning your wrists so your hand can be on top of theirs feels forcibly dominant. Be firm but not forceful, and direct with them. If they show themselves as huggers, then embrace away. Otherwise, opt for the handshake and keep out of their personal space.

Men standing together and talking
Henri Mathieu-Saint-Laurent/Pexels

Taste

If your traditional sense of taste is a part of the first impression, there may be something wrong with how you say hello. In the context of this practice, the sense of taste is regarding the conversation. You will need to be tasteful in everything that you say. Cursing is more acceptable and has been found to be correlated with intelligence in some studies. However, it still feels crude and inappropriate to some people, so have taste in your verbiage and subject matter. Stay away from your political or religious beliefs until the subject is brought up or you have a rapport with your audience.

Instead, focus on asking about their lives and show interest in who they are. Repeat their name back to them multiple times. This serves two purposes as it builds a connection with you in their mind and helps you remember their name later on when you meet them again. Nothing is more powerful than the feeling of being seen. Also, compliment them. Tell them you love their shoes or that they have a great haircut. Be genuine, though; nothing is worse than coming across as a brown noser or greasy car salesman.

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Hear

This sense is two-pronged. The first is about listening to what the other person says. Sure, you want to let them know who you are and what you are capable of (especially in a job interview), but when you ask about their lives, listen to what they tell you. Don’t simply wait for your turn to speak; engage with them and show genuine interest in their stamp collection or their job as a life insurance salesman. It doesn’t matter if it interests you; let them feel seen, and they will never forget you.

Also, about your conversation, while taste is regarding what you say, hearing is regarding how you say it. Part of your verbal communication is the words coming out of your mouth; the rest is tone and inflection. Enunciating your words and projecting your voice shows confidence and intelligence. So when you tell someone’s parent you have the best intentions or tell an interviewer you are the best fit for the job, they will believe you. Genuineness is your number one tool for making other people remember you. Sometimes they will remember what you say, but nearly all the time, they will remember how you made them feel.

Remember as you go through the day that you will meet dozens of people. Each of them will take that version of you and pass it on to those they meet. Your sphere of influence is much larger than you may think, so be sure to pay attention to all five of these senses and put your best self forward, mastering the art of the first impression and being truly unforgettable.

Mark McKee
Mark is a full-time freelance writer and men's coach. He spent time as a style consultant and bespoke suit salesman before…
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