Do First Impressions Count When You Are Speaking?

by drjim on April 27, 2010

Yes, Your Appearance Can Work Against You

Yes, Your Appearance Can Work Against You

I’m not sure if this falls into the “good news” or “bad news” category, but it turns out that your audience may have already made up their mind about listening to what you have to say even before you open your mouth to speak. Do I have your attention now?

What The Researchers Have Discovered About First Impressions

We’ve always been taught that the opening of a speech is the most critical part of any speech because it is at that time that you have everyone’s attention and they are trying to make up their minds as to whether or not to listen to you. However, researchers are now telling us that that decision is being made even earlier.

In fact, the audience started making up their minds about you as you got up and started moving towards the podium. What happens is that everyone makes a first impression about you upon seeing that you are the speaker (yeah, I know it’s not right, but it’s what we all do so get over it) and then that first impression is used to interpret everything that you do after that.

This conclusion is not without its detractors. There are some that say that the first impression is not as strong as many believe. Others believe that we get a chance to form a second first impression after the first meeting. This may be true, but as speakers we may never get that second chance so we should be careful to make the best first impression possible.

How Can A Speaker’s Words Make A Good First Impression?

A million years can pass from when the person who is running the meeting starts to introduce you to when you actually take the stage. During that time a lot can happen and you need to make sure that it’s all positive. The title of your speech is the first place to start: does it grab the audience’s imagination and excite them to hear what you are going to say?

How you take the stage is the next step. If you shuffle onto the stage with your head hanging low looking like you’d really rather be anywhere else in the world than there, your audience will start to wish that they were there also. However, if instead, you project confidence as you stride up and take the stage then your audience will sit up and take notice.

Once you’ve taken the stage, we’re now back to that issue of the first words that will be tumbling out of your mouth. Here’s an interesting thought: how much time do you spend on the first sentence in your speeches? I’m going to guess that the answer is not enough. This is the million dollar waterfront real estate in your speech – it’s worth the investment of time to get it right. You want your words to start a fire in your audience’s mind – your opening needs to promise great things to come in the rest of your speech.

If Looks Matter, What Can A Speaker Do?

So clearly people will be making snap judgements about you simply based on how you look. Pick your clothes carefully. You want to look sharp and polished. The rule of thumb when giving a speech is that you always want to be the best-dressed person in the room.

Make sure that when you start to speak you speak in a loud clear voice. This will tell everyone that you are very confidant and that they should listen to what you have to say. Make sure that your body language is in agreement with the words that are coming out of your mouth. Finally, never forget to smile. When you smile your audience can’t help but smile back at you and that will go a long way in winning them over to your side.

What All Of This Means For You

As speakers we like to imagine that our speeches start when we open our mouth the first time to start speaking. Research has shown that this is not the case: our audiences are forming first impressions of us long before we reach the stage.

What this means is that we need to make sure that we dress the part and project an air of self confidence even before we reach the stage. Once there, the first words of our speech need to be crafted in order to capture our audience’s attention and hold it.

The bad news is that our audiences are prejudging us before we have a chance to show them how good of a speaker we are. The good news is that now we know that they are doing this and with a little effort, we can use this knowledge to make sure that we get them to make a positive first impression and then we’ve got them right where we want them to be.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills

Question For You: What do you think is the most important thing that you can do to make a good first impression with your audience?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Congratulations – you’ve been asked to give a speech. Got one to give? Unless someone has asked you to deliver a speech that you’ve already given multiple times, you’re probably in the spot that most speakers find themselves all too often – standing in the middle of tracks while the train known as your speaking date comes racing towards you. What’s an accidental communicator to do?

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