How to Create a First Impression Worthy of Optimus Prime

First impressions. It should be no surprise to you that you get only one chance to make a first impression. That applies to anywhere in life: meeting a friend for the first time, a blind date, an interview with a new recruiter, or company.


According to Carol Kinsey Goman on, people form their first impression about you within 7 seconds.


That’s not a lot of time, to begin with. I would have taken this at face value had I not read Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. Malcolm illustrates that first impressions are, in fact, made in the first milliseconds of an encounter. You may not even notice, but intuitively, in a split-second, you’ve decided whether or not you like the person. And those split-second judgments are usually more accurate than when you logically apply reasoning.


Malcolm goes on to illustrate that depending on who you are, you likely have pre-conceived notions about a person based on gender, race, context, or other visual cues present. So, of course, our judgment could be erroneous when we start to factor in more and more information when forming that first impression about someone.


Can we rely on our snap judgments? More importantly, what can we do to convey that award-winning first impression when next we meet that VIP in our lives?


Be Authentic

First and foremost, be you. The best and most unique thing you can offer is to be yourself. Yes, I know. Easily said, than done. Often we are so critical of ourselves that we want to portray what we think people want to see in us. I know I’ve come a long way in developing the confidence to know that I’m good enough and that I don’t have act in a manner that I think people will accept me.



Growing up in an Asian family, I was taught that girls act a certain way. Though I was defiant in my later childhood, I’m probably not alone. In fact, I daresay most people, regardless of gender, feel this way, until we are comfortable in our own skin. Until we have the confidence to know that we are good enough just being ourselves, we tend to think that people won’t accept who we truly are. We’re careful not to dole out all our crazies all at once. I’m sure you all know someone who fits the poser profile. It might even be you. You can tell when a person is trying too hard. It’s not that he’s trying too hard. It’s just that he’s not being himself. He’s not being authentic.


That being said, societal acceptance standards still prevail. It’s still not cool to be a racist, misogynistic sociopath if that’s who you really are. As Aziz Ansari regaled in his SNL intro, if that’s who you are, we still need you to go on pretending that you’re not racist. We never understood how much effort it took for you to hide your true hateful misogynistic persona. But we need you to continue hiding that! That’s not acceptable anywhere you go! But as long as you’re a kind person, individuality is still your number 1 advantage.



Besides being yourself, that is, being authentic, I invite you to approach the entire notion of first impressions from the other person’s perspective. It’s one thing to be authentic. It’s another to be self-absorbed. Besides being authentic there are a few key secrets that if you want to leave a knock-out first impression, these are must do’s.


Key Success Factors in Creating a Knock-out First Impression

In my post “The Simplest Ways to Use Body Language to Convey Confidence,” I discussed intimately the importance of paying attention to body language to show your self-confidence. This is especially important when you think about creating that first impression. But this time, we need to unpack exactly what those details are in creating that self-confident first impression that warrants an epic music score playing the background.


Eye Contact

This, to me, is an obvious one. Everyone knows that eye contact is important. Yet unless it’s second nature to you, you don’t necessarily employ it. If you have to consciously think about giving eye contact, you’re not going to remember it when you create a first impression. The problem is that you rarely get to choose when it is you get to make a first impression. In the wise words of Optimus Prime, “fate rarely calls upon us at the moment of our choosing.”


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The only way you can make eye contact second nature is to consciously practice is every time you see someone. Anyone. Make it a habit that if you’re going to look at someone, you into their eyes. Don’t dart away. One of my favorite tricks in Leil Lowndes’ book ‘How to Talk to Anyone,’ not only make the eye contact but maintain the eye contact for as long as the engagement lasts. Lock your gaze. Even though they make initial eye contact down, most people will naturally dart away when they think of something, or are trying to BS about something. Seriously. Especially when we aren’t feeling very confident, or are meeting someone who somehow intimidates us, our first instinct is to dart our eyes away.



Here’s what I want you to do. Next time you’re talking to a person, lock your eyes into theirs. You can blink, obviously. But fight the urge to dart your eyes away. You’re going to feel different inside. You might feel uneasy, or scared like you’re bearing your soul for everyone to see. Or you might feel defiant like you’re challenging them. Whatever you feel, fight the urge to look away. Do this often enough, and eye contact will come to you without you having to even think about it.


Many of the elements I’m bringing up today are things that I want to inspire you to infuse in your daily life going forward. Why? Like I said before, chances are you already know that it’s a good idea to do all of these things. But unless it’s part of your natural persona, you’re not going to suddenly just rise to the occasion and have locking eye contact, and amazing posture when the opportunity for first impression comes your way. So, here’s how I would encourage you to practice posture, such that it becomes a part of your natural state.


When I taught yoga, my favorite cues for cuing posture were as follows:

  • Roll the shoulders back, press them down.
  • Knife the shoulder blades together
  • Lift the sternum
  • Engage the abdominals


Do this every time you find yourself standing. When you step into an elevator, roll your shoulders back, knife the shoulder blades together, lift the sternum. Engage the abdominals.



You can even do this sitting down at your computer as well. In fact, it’s our sedentary position as a desk jockey that often creates our poor posture. When you’re used to being huddled over a laptop, you start to the same thing standing up. Counteract that by going through the four cues.



This is also a no-brainer. Most people have no issue smiling to people. It’s a universal trait that we do as humans to acknowledge the presence of other humans. I feel like if you’re anything professional, this will already be second nature to you. Where we might have issues though is being selective at whom we smile.



When we smile, we are essentially opening ourselves up to people. While no one would openly admit this, a lot of us are actually physically scared to open up to people we don’t know. Fair enough. It’s a self-preservation mechanism. A lot of the self-preservation mechanisms, though, while they may have served our caveman ancestors well, don’t necessarily produce the same effect in today’s society.


Let’s put it this way: you’re not protecting yourself anymore by putting on a resting bitch face. So smile, already! And feel good doing it. It’s free. It makes you look approachable, and it doesn’t make you any less safe.


When you pair eye contact with smiling, you’re sending a vibe of respect and acceptance to the individual. You’re essentially telling that person that you acknowledge their existence. Conversely, when someone looks right through us, it’s like we’re invisible to them. Right? It makes us feel like crap.


Shake Hands Firmly; Don’t Overdo it

In previous posts, I discussed the dead fish handshake. If you have any lick of experience in the corporate world, you’ll know that to deliver a handshake like a dead salmon is to ask the person to step on your face like a doormat. Ok, maybe not that intense.


Hopefully, you know by now that whenever you shake a hand, grip firmly. But there is a point of overdoing it. Throwing out a death-grip makes you look like you’re trying too hard. It makes you look like you’re actually trying to fill the gap of self-confidence. Worse yet, you’re communicating that you have a gap in self-confidence that you feel the need to cover up. There’s a Chinese saying Cantonese that goes nicely with this: “seen ha sow wai keung,” which translates to “he who makes the first move is dominant.” A firm handshake is perceived as an act of dominance, being the alpha.



But, Cat, what’s wrong with trying to be the alpha? Ok, first, it tells me what kind of person you are. Second, do you honestly think that if you were truly secure and confident about yourself, you would even feel the need to fight for alpha? Let me answer that for you. No. You wouldn’t. You wouldn’t care. You wouldn’t care because you feel that you’re good enough already. End of story.


Furthermore, it occurs to me that if you feel the need to fight to be alpha, you’re operating on a scarcity mindset (which I discuss in “How We Got Role Models all Wrong” ). If you’re going to thrive in a corporate environment, I would highly advise you NOT to operate on a scarcity mindset. In fact, no matter where you are, it honestly never serves you to operate upon scarcity. Why? Because the truth of the matter is that there is always plenty to go around. But I digress, because this opens a whole new topic altogether.


Even though I’m discussing each of these elements separately, the magic happens only when you employ all of these tactics together. So, when you firmly (but not too firmly) shake your new friend’s hand, pay him the civility to smile at him. Look him in the eye to show that you’re accepting of him. These two alone set you up for an award-winning first impression. (Insert tooth sparkle here)


Stand up to Greet

In the Chinese culture, and I daresay, many other cultures, it’s a sign of respect and diplomacy to stand up when greeting a person. When you stay seated as you are introduced to a new person, some might argue that you’re making yourself look passive. Personally, I think if you don’t even bother standing up when meeting someone new, you’re actually pretty rude. The message that it conveys to me is that you’re not worthy of my time, so I’m not even going to bother standing up. Move along.


Introduce Yourself First

The power of introducing yourself first when you’re in a social gathering is a clear sign of self-confidence and approachability. As Rachel Wagner of said, “it’s impressive to people if you can introduce yourself to people you don’t know and engage in conversation.” It’s impressive because it’s downright scary to do. Many of us, myself included, are right out of our comfort zone when put in a room full of strange people.



If you’re anything like me, a natural introvert, my skin literally starts to crawl. I try to look for a place to hide. I feel… awkward. With years of personal development, I’ve trained myself to progress out of that mindset where I feel like crawling under a rock, though I still want to sometimes. I’ve trained myself to ‘turn it on’ at social events like birthday parties, Christmas parties, networking events. Still, though, left to my devices, I would rather go for coffee with an individual, one on one.


Use Their Name

If ever there is a superpower, it’s remembering people’s names. Most of us self-proclaim to be ‘terrible with names.’ As I mentioned in my post “How to Get Your Way Like Toddlers and Dogs,”  quite frankly, this is a load of crap. It’s crap because if you can remember your address, you can remember someone’s name. You just have to fricking try. While you may not be 100% (I’m not either), the fact that you put an effort into remembering someone’s name shows that you care. Though in reality, while you really may not give a flying frack about what this passing person’s name is, the fact that you used his name suggests that you made an effort. And when you’re trying to create a first impression, ten times out of ten, the person will endear you to him if he hears the sound of his own name.



This is an entertaining one. Let me illustrate. There was once I had a meeting in an enclosed room with our project team. Everything was fine until this dude walked in. Immediately it was like we hit a thick wall of pungency. I looked longingly at the open door, secretly regretting not sitting close to the only source of fresh air. Then, the unthinkable happened. The PM shut the door. Our fates were sealed. I don’t remember what went on in that meeting, aside from the fact that my eyes were watering. When the meeting adjourned, the bunch of us exited ever so slightly faster silently gasping for a breath of fresh air.


Look. It’s your prerogative to determine your own showering schedule. However, know that if you’re going to walk into a room smelling like a foot, everyone within nose-shot will remember you for that one thing. Do yourself (and everyone around you) a favor. Take a shower. Every day. We are graced to live in a society with clean running water on demand. Exercise the privilege. Oh, and yes. Use deodorant. No showering experience is complete without it.
You know there is just so much I can say about grooming, I feel I need to save that for an entirely separate post.


A Complimentary Go To Phrase

When our son was 3, my husband equipped him with three questions on which he could always rely when thinking of something to say to a new anyone. Because of this, he’s confident in talking to people, regardless their age. Often we don’t converse with people because we don’t know what to say. But if we have a few go-to lines on which we can rely, well then we always have something meaningful to say, don’t we. It does make a difference what you say, though. The secret is that you have to focus on them. It can’t be about you. Better yet, think of complimentary phrases, or say something that makes them feel good about themselves.


” Ah, so you’re THE (so and so). “

“Great to meet you! We’re excited to have you on our team”

“A pleasure to meet you. I’m excited to learn from you!”

“So you’re (so and so). Your reputation precedes you!” (if it’s true. This past Christmas, someone said this to me. It made me feel like a million bucks! I suddenly felt like a little taller for the rest of the day.)


… whatever suits your style. When someone tells you that they are excited to learn from you, it makes you look forward to seeing them again, doesn’t it? You remember them for a long time afterward.


To close, I’ll leave you with this handy dandy infographic. So go forth and knock the socks off the next person you meet!



Also published on Medium.

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