Humans have the incredible ability to form accurate first impressions about someone based on just a few seconds of interaction. Stanford researchers Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal call this concept “thin-slicing,” and their research backs up any old adage you’ve heard about the importance of first impressions.
Science of People conducted their own research to figure out what makes some TED Talks so popular. They found that within the first 7 seconds, people had already made a decision about the entire talk. Watch the video they used in their research here, and see what kind of impressions these speakers make on you.
In just 7 seconds, we form impressions about whether we want to watch the rest of the talk or not. So how do you make a positive first impression that leaves the audience wanting more? Really, it boils down to two things: what you say and how you say it.
What You Say
No matter how much we love to stress the importance of non-verbal communication, we can’t underestimate the role content plays. Without a speech, you aren’t a speaker. But what kind of content captured the audience in the 7-second clips in the linked video above?
The speakers who started with a story or jumped right into the crux of what they would be addressing had stronger impact. Those who opened with what seemed to be biographical or historical information weren’t as engaging. That’s not to say that those pieces of information aren’t important and can’t be included later in the presentation, but we are better off to grab attention with a powerful first line or story rather than our name or where we are from or the history of our company.
How You Say It
Here’s the real kicker. In the Science of People study mentioned above, researchers found that subjects were able to form consistent and accurate impressions of the speakers whether the sound was on or off. In other words, they didn’t need to hear the content to form an impression. Researcher Nalini Ambady notes that our brains make judgements of others within seconds of meeting them. She says this typically happens before we exchange any words. That means your audience is forming an impression of you before you ever open your mouth to spit out that carefully planned first sentence. How you dress, how you take the stage, how you stand, what you do with your hands, what facial expressions you use, all of those things matter as much as, if not more than, your opening line. If you are looking down, standing behind a podium, buried in your notes, or showing little expression in your voice and face, the audience members won’t be engaged, and that lack of engagement will translate to negative first impressions.
What will you do with your first 7 seconds as a speaker? How will you use both your verbal and non-verbal communication to make a positive first impact that leaves the audience wanting more? While practicing for your next presentation, record your first 7 seconds, and then ask yourself, will the audience want to hear more?
For ways to make those first 7 seconds count, register now for our online presentation skills course.