“First impressions last forever.”
“It only takes a few seconds for someone to make up their mind about you.”
We’ve all heard–and experienced–these statements. We know that first impressions count. They count on job interviews, first dates, dinner parties, meeting the in-laws, and, really, anywhere.
So how can we make good–and lasting–first impressions?
We decided to pick Deb Sofield’s brain for the answers. Deb is an executive life coach based out of Greenville, and she’s basically an institution.
She is president of her own executive speech and presentations coaching company and has won a slew of awards, including the Order of the Palmetto, the state of South Carolina’s highest honor, and the prestigious Toastmasters District 58 Communication and Leadership Award for the state of South Carolina. Additionally, she’s been on the faculty at Harvard, Yale, Loyola, USC, Clemson, and Furman, and she’s been actively involved in local government.
Clearly, Deb is highly qualified to give us advice! Read on to learn how to make a positive and lasting first impression:
GNHC: When we meet someone new for the first time, how are we judged by that person?
DS: Typically, you are judged based on three “surface” impressions. First, they’ll have an overall immediate visual impression–how you look. Second, you are judged by how you sound–the tone and tenor of your voice. And finally, you are judged by what you say–the words you use. These three clues–the visual, the vocal, and the verbal–communicate much about you and for good or bad, and people will make a “first impression” based on those three impressions.
GNHC: What parts of a first impression can we control, and which can’t we control?
DS: You can control every aspect of yourself. Your smile, warm handshake, and friendly demeanor tell a lot about you… remember people “see” more than what they “hear.” So let them “see” your smile and easy-going manner. Don’t get tangled in your sad self-esteem issues. Get up and shake yourself off and be the best you can be and the person we always hoped you would be. Don’t fall in the trap of you can’t control it. Get off the couch, push back from the dinner table, take care of yourself inside and out. Don’t you deserve it? I say YES!
GNHC: Which matters more in a first impression: looks or actions?
DS: I’m going to go with actions. Kindness is the number one issue I look for in someone. If you’re not kind, I’m not interested. You can be great looking, but if your actions aren’t pretty on the inside, then no amount of plastic surgery, perfume, or makeup can change your outside. It’s bound to show through. I do the interview work in the pageant business, and I always ask my Miss SC contestants, how will the judge know you’re pretty on the inside? And it always comes down to actions. Because they really do speak louder than words.
GNHC: What can a shy or nervous person do to make sure the other person doesn’t take control of a meeting?
DS: I remind my audiences that for most of them, they have been invited to the meeting. So show up. All of your beings needs to be in the present, in the moment, and comfortable in your skin. So, let’s think about this. If you were invited to the meeting, then someone thinks you have something to say… out loud (not a whisper). So let your voice be heard. Let me give you some ideas to be heard… not easy mind you, but necessary. If you’re being cut off by someone else from your conversation, here is what you do:
- Increase the volume of your voice as you continue talking. Gently be a little louder so they know you’re not done yet…
- Hold up your index finger sort of like a yield sign to the clueless. And if that does not work…simply say–
- Out loud Hold it…let me finish this thought.
Not easy to do, but since you have the right to speak and be heard, I strongly encourage you to do so!
GNHC: What are your top tips for making not just a positive impression but a lasting one, as well?
DS: Mark Twain said it best: “Kindness is a language, which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
I know I keep going to kindness, but in this world that is so angry and mean and hostile, the only way to defuse the uproar is to quiet the spirit and soul. As a national speaker and trainer in my sessions, I can see that people are searching for a word, a nugget of wisdom, or a new line of thought to bolster their confidence, settle their soul, and allow them to breathe… deeply.
A positive impression is nice… but a lasting impression is unforgettable. Think about people you’ve met one time and can still remember how they made you feel (not what they said) how they made YOU feel. I can guess that they made you feel important like you’re the only one that mattered and that they seemed to care. And years later–you remember that.
GNHC: Do you think it’s normally better to take the other person’s lead or to be the leader?
DS: You’re kidding me right?
Be the leader. In this world where so many people are looking for leadership, let it be you that sets the course to run the race to finish with success. Now more than ever we need to set an example for others to follow. And we set that course by using our God-given gifts and talents to be the very best we can be.
GNHC: What role can coaching play in making the best impression possible?
DS: Coaching gives you another perspective that you can’t see. You’re probably better than you think you are (especially my female clients). A coach can wake you up and help you get on the path you were meant to walk. Executive speech coaching is not for everyone, but if you want to make your next presentation something to remember you probably need some help in crafting your message. You should speak to be repeated and remembered… otherwise, you’re just chattering in the wind.
When asked what I do–I simply say–I help people find their voice and learn to use it. And when you speak and people really listen–that is the best impression possible.
Thanks for having me–have me back anytime.
Deb Sofield is a dynamic keynote speaker and corporate presentations coach who trains women and men for success in speaking, presentation skills, and message development in the U.S. and abroad. She can be reached at www.debsofield.com.
Actively involved in her community, Sofield represents the City of Greenville as Chairman for the Commission of Public Works for the Water System and is the first woman to hold this position since its inception in 1918. Sofield was formerly a member of Greenville City Council, where she holds one of the highest vote victories in a district City election by overwhelmingly winning every precinct.
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