Making great first impressions requires more than just a confident attitude and witty dialogue — it’s all about your body language. In the heat of the moment, it can be easy to forget about all the little tweaks and adjustments you can make to improve the signals you give off.
When it comes to body language, it really is the small stuff that counts. Tiny details can draw people to you like moths to flame, or you can repel them like the wrong side of a magnet. Use this quick five-point checklist to guide your body language in social situations and ensure the first impressions you make are optimal every time. We promise it’s easy enough to remember that it won’t go right out the window the minute you meet someone new.
1. Smile with your eyes.
There’s no better way to break the ice and warm the room than starting with a smile. But you can’t plaster on some goofy grin and think that will do the trick; you’ve got to use your entire face to smile. You have to learn how to make your smile shine through your eyes, not just bare your teeth.
In our Los Angeles Bootcamp, students are usually surprised by video playbacks of themselves interacting with others. They thought they were smiling and being approachable, but they actually looked sort of grumpy and intimidating. This happens a lot when people wear their “default face” — the face you make when you’re processing, listening, and trying to get involved in conversation.
A warm smile draws people to you, but it also signals your brain that it’s safe to engage with others. When you relax your face, the rest of your body follows, and your stress level drops. It’s especially important to monitor that you’re modeling positive body language if you’ve had a rough day at work or feel stressed coming into a situation. Never walk into a room scowling and sending people scrambling to move out of your way.
2. Pay attention to details.
It’s not always easy to maintain eye contact, but being able to look a person in the eyes signals confidence and interest. If your eyes are darting around, or you’re pretending to look in a person’s eyes, you’re not actually focusing on them.
A good way to check yourself is to ask yourself the color of the person’s eyes after you’ve had a conversation with them for the first time. If you can’t remember, you probably didn’t maximize the benefits of strong eye contact.
Test your ability to pay attention and maintain eye contact the next time you’re out. People love being genuinely complimented, so find ways to be the person who always notices someone’s gorgeous eyes or best feature.
3. Be bubbly, but not obnoxious.
Energy is contagious. If you’re low energy and lacking enthusiasm, people won’t notice you — they may even steer clear of you. You should seem excited to be there, like you actually want to engage in conversation with people. Your energy should be reflected in your tone of voice, body language, and warmth.
This doesn’t mean you should be bouncing off the walls like you’ve crushed several energy drinks and possibly some hard liquor. No one wants to feel like a downer, so if you’re too hyper for them to feel connected with you, they’ll prefer leaving the situation to calming you down. Show enthusiasm, but also follow the cues of the other person and reflect their energy
4. Shift into neutral.
Be careful where you stand when you approach someone. Coming in head-on and standing face-to-face with someone can come off as incredibly intimidating. It creates unnecessary tension between you and the other person.
During Bootcamp, we like to have two guys stand up and face each other, then take just one step closer. Every time, you can feel the suspense in the room, like something’s about to happen. This stance just feels aggressive.
The ideal position is neutral, standing next to the other person, side-by-side. It can be hard to fight the temptation to sit across from someone as you talk to them, but facing another person is much less conducive to making a good first impression. Shift into the more confident, more neutral position and take the pressure off the situation as you chat.
5. No fake-outs allowed.
Remember back in grade school when someone would act like they were going to give you a high-five, only to pull back and fake you out, smoothing their hair? Or if you’d reach for a slap and someone left you hanging? It’s super awkward, right?
The same thing can happen if you walk up to someone for an introduction, but you’re nervous and your signals are unclear. Now you’re standing there uncomfortably, the other person didn’t realize you were trying to introduce yourself, they feel weird, and you both kind of want to pretend the whole interaction never occurred.
Don’t let a lack of commitment make for needless confusion. Don’t cave to the urge to pull back — keep your body language strong and positive. Fully commit to the interaction, and then stay engaged with it. Don’t abort the mission before you can see the fruits of your labors; that’s doing all the hard work and missing the fun part.
Get out there and practice. You can read all the personal development books on the market and listen to podcasts until you’re blue in the face, but if you don’t practice the skills, you’ll never get any better. You’ll have some missteps, but if you go out with a smile and a good attitude, nobody’s really going to notice you haven’t perfected your craft.