How to Nail Your First Impression

We’ve all heard the saying you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression. But whether we’re at a bar, a baseball game, or in the boardroom, most of us probably don’t know how to take advantage of that first and only opportunity to become a positive blip on someone’s radar. And trust me, that strong first impression is just as important in the bar as it is in the boardroom!

We’re going to break it down for you today and look at what you need to do to prepare for and execute a good first impression. We’ll take a deep dive into the components that make up a strong impression, and examine the science behind each these of crucial building blocks. Because once you understand the how’s and the why’s, you’ll be better prepared to make a good first impression no matter where you are.

The four components of a good first impression are, in order:

  • Static
  • Dynamic
  • Self-Presentation
  • Circumstance

1. Static

I call the first component “static” because the foundation for building a good first impression begins with accepting what we cannot change about ourselves. That which is static. When you see someone for the first time, what do you see about them that they cannot change? It’s their looks. The genes and DNA that physically manifest in their appearance.

I won’t lie. Looks matter. They’re the first thing people notice about us, right? That’s why they’re the number one component of a first impression. And that’s also why we need to learn to accept, embrace, and maximize the genetic cards we were dealt. I may not look like Brad Pitt, but that doesn’t mean I have to throw in the towel where looks are concerned. What it does mean is I have to work a little harder than Brad does to maximize what I do have.

So how do we make the most of our looks/genes?

It’s simple really. We make sure we get enough of the 3 ingredients necessary for good health:

  • Exercise
  • Nutrition
  • Sleep

It starts with exercise. As men, we should be exercising at a minimum of 90 minutes a week. I’m talking about actual physical activity, not simply working at a standing desk. By moving our bodies and using our muscles, we’re helping our bodies produce the hormones that give us that all important confidence boost. Performing a regular morning exercise routine can help keep our testosterone elevated all day long. Turns out testosterone doesn’t only affect our confidence levels, it also makes an impact on our willingness to take risks. In other words, getting the right amount of exercise can literally give you enough “balls” to go strike up a conversation with that gorgeous woman in the bar, and/or ask your boss for that well-deserved raise. If that doesn’t give you the motivation to get up a little earlier to go hit the gym, I don’t know what will.

Next up is nutrition. Despite a mounting wealth of evidence about the impact a good diet can have on your mood and disposition, the fact is way too many of us still balk at eating properly. We probably think we’ll have to sacrifice too much, or make too drastic a change in our lifestyles. So what the hell – what harm is one more chocolate chip muffin really gonna do anyway? The answer is plenty. That’s why I say don’t over complicate it. Start by avoiding processed foods and sugar. If it’s found in nature (fruits, veggies, meats, etc.), go for it. If not (cheese delivered via aerosol, cookies from a package, almost anything from a can), try to keep it at arms’ length. Or further.

plate of natural foods

The same goes for sugar, especially of the processed variety. More and more studies are showing a link between chronic intake of sugar and a wealth of conditions we definitely want to avoid, such as memory loss, learning disorders, and depression. On the other hand, the neurotransmitters triggered by proper diet and exercise include dopamine, serotonin, and gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), which in turn lead to a wealth of positive behaviors such as increased focus, calmness, and happiness. Those are all attributes that lead us to feel good in and about our bodies. And when you feel good in your body, you’re much better positioned for that first impression.

Sleep, the final frontier. Because we’re not actually doing anything at the time, sleep is an easy to overlook activity. But you’ll do so at your peril, or at least the risk of feeling super crappy all day long. In western culture, we frequently make the mistake of celebrating a lack of sleep. How often have you heard a buddy brag, “I pulled an all-nighter. I only run on four hours of sleep.”? You better tell your buddy that science says he’s kidding himself. You might also remind him that sleep deprivation can have a particularly negative effect on his facial appearance and social appeal. And what kind of an impact do you think that will have on his ability to make a good first impression?

How to ensure a good night’s rest

There are three steps you can take immediately to ensure you start enjoying better night’s rest:

  • Make sure you have a comfortable mattress and bedding.
  • Cut down exposure to blue light and remove all electronics from the bedroom
  • Adjust the temperature in your bedroom

Once you get your sleep dialed in, you’ll feel better rested and can start functioning at your highest. That means being better able to run through your checklist, come up with those witty banter lines, and mentally prepared in all ways to nail that first impression.

2. Dynamic

Dynamic is the second component of making a good first impression and refers to how you move, your body language, and how you take up space. This is another visual component, which means once again, what you do and how you behave is even more important than what you say. People pick up on and are constantly evaluating all your visual cues, including your movements. So it’s important to remember that when you do move, you need to do so with purpose!

How do I improve my body language?

Fake it ‘til you make it. Improving our body language can seem like a tall order, especially when we’re feeling plagued by doubts, insecurities, and other clutter accumulating in our frontal cortex. The good news is, it’s easier to act your way into right thinking, than think your way into right action. That means I can be in a crappy mood and still slap a smile on my face. We adopt a “fake it ‘til you make it” attitude and what do you know? We often find that our Mind will follow our Body, if we just put our body in the right positions.

You don’t have to take my word for it, either. ‘Cause, you know, science.

  • Body language can positively (or negatively) directly impact our state of mind.
  • The way you walk and move can actually make you happier.
  • Your body and facial expressions can alter your mood.

Whether entering a conference room or exiting the urinal, I have a little trick I do to make sure I’m moving properly, and displaying the right body language. I call it the “Body Check”, and I perform it every time I enter any room.

The 3-Part Body Check

  • I stand up tall, as if there’s a string holding up my head. This is my Power Pose, a proven move to boost confidence.
  • I take my arms and shoulders and I just roll them back, so my arms are at my sides. Open body language is always a more effective form of communication.
  • Last but not least, I make sure I’m smiling. Every time you smile, you’re throwing a little party in your brain. You’re also spreading good cheer with that smile, in effect inviting others to join your party.

Performing that one, two, three body check every single time I enter a room sends out a positive blip to the entire room. Sometimes I’ll do this several times in the same night, resetting myself for a strong first impression each time!

3. Self-Presentation

Component #3 for building a positive first impression is self-presentation. Self-presentation itself is comprised of two attributes:

  • Style
  • Grooming

When it comes to style, what are the basic rules to follow?

  • Clothing fit. This may seem obvious, but you’d be amazed how many people are walking around looking like scarecrows, rather than successful, confident men. The difference between the two isn’t that hard to achieve, with just a little bit of effort and attention.
    • Your shirts need to fit squarely on your shoulders. Always make sure your shirt seam is one fingertip width from your collarbone. Any more or less, ditch the shirt… or if you really love it, take it to your local tailor.
    • Your pants should not require a belt. Nothing against belt, but your clothes should not require additional support to stay on your body. Pants are particularly important because they serve as the anchor for the rest of your outfit. So if you don’t want to be cast adrift on the sea of fashion, make sure you get yourself a proper fitting pair of pants!
  • Showcase your personality. The second rule of style is to make sure your clothes are an extension of your personality. If it’s true that clothing makes the man, well then, the man better be damn sure he chooses the clothing that makes him his best. Our clothes paint the story of who we are, what tribes we belong to, what interests and passions we care about the most. When chosen properly, these same clothes can also make us more likeable.

Once again, the science here is clear and convincing. In her book, You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal about You, clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner takes a deeper look at what she calls the “psychology of dress.” Turns out our clothes say a lot more about us that we realize – and play a super key role in whether that first impression is a strong one, or eminently forgettable.

Grooming… Really?

Yes, really. Grooming is a super important part of your self-presentation, and lets your audience know right off the bat how you feel about yourself. Proper grooming sends the message that you know how to take care of yourself, and that you consider yourself worthy of this kind of self-care.  Poor grooming on the other hand is associated with low self-esteem. It has also been shown to lead to other damaging psychological side effects, such as anger, depression, and social anxieties. The primary benefits of grooming, especially where first impressions are concerned, is simple: it makes you more confident and attractive. So guys, go invest in a good trimmer and let the manscaping begin!

4. Circumstance

The 4th and final component of making a good impression is what I call “circumstance.” I’m not talking about the kind of circumstances we were born into, but those that we can change.

What are the circumstances over which we can exert control?

  • Location
  • Surroundings


Location is the first ingredient here, because you have zero chance of registering as a blip on someone’s radar if they can’t find you. Where you stand in a room – where you choose to locate yourself – has a big impact on your first impression.

image of the elbow of a bar
The “elbow” of the bar

So how do you know where to locate yourself properly? Easy. Start by picking a highly trafficked area of the venue you’re in. If we’re talking about a bar, for me that means situating yourself at the “elbows” of the bar where people order their drinks. You’ll get them coming and going and have plenty of time to work on your banter from either direction. At a concert, I like to place myself at what I call the 3-point-line, on the periphery of the mosh pit where dancers come to take a break, and others congregate as they consider jumping in. Standing in accessible spots like these have two very clear and convincing benefits:

  • It makes you more highly visible and more likeable;
  • It brings potential partners (romantic or professional) into closer proximity to you, which has been proven to accelerate intimacy and the capacity for collaboration.

Think about it: who’s more approachable when you walk into a bar – someone standing in the middle of the room exchanging witticisms with everyone in his proximity, or that guy nursing his whiskey sour tucked away in a booth in the deepest, darkest corner?


Surroundings refers to the company we keep. And the company we keep, the friends with whom we choose to surround ourselves, often have a much bigger impact on that first impression than we realize.

Why is our choice of friends so important?

  • Our closest friends enrich our lives, and can actually improve our health as well;
  • Our five best friends exert an enormous influence over our lives (check out our podcast for a closer look on how we only get as high as our five closest friends);
  • Our friends play a big role in shaping our personality, and determining how successful we become in our lives.

Clearly, we need to start thinking about friends the same way we do about time and money. Because, really, how we spend our time and money pretty much defines us and how we spend our lives. That means asking ourselves some hard questions before getting involved with new people:

  • Who are we going to invest in?
  • Are these people supporting me on my journey?
  • Are they helping me get closer to my goals or are they hindering me from my goals?

Learning how to become more discerning about the people we spend time with is going to become a very important skill. Because we want to make sure we’re allowing the right people into our lives, while filtering the wrong people out. At the end of the day we want to be confident that our tribe knows our mission and has our back. And having a good tribe around us can often help us take the final step towards nailing that first impression!