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Beyond Insurance

Brand identity: The power of first impressions

Make your first impression a great impression

By F. Scott Addis, CPCU, CRA and Christin Myers

How many times have you heard, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression"? How many times have you said it? Do you believe it?

The power of an impression

An "impression" is a mark, indentation, or figure produced by pressure. A personal impression is the strong effect that is produced on one's intellect, feelings, or conscience. Therefore, a first impression is the mark made in the first moments of interacting with someone. Initial encounters are emotionally concentrated events. One walks away from them with a first impression that is like a Polaroid photo—a head-to-toe image that develops instantly and never entirely fades.

What kind of first impression are you making? The brain is immensely perceptive and takes into account every minor detail of one's facial features. The sights and sounds that surround us are picked up by sense organs, and the signal is passed to the brain. These signals are then compared to the memories of past experiences. The interpretations of the signals play a key role in forming the first impression.

Three primary characteristics affect the initial engagement—warmth, competence, and physical attractiveness. Within seconds of the first encounter, one's brain begins to interpret signals that relate to these characteristics and play the key role in forming the first impression. Warmth is reflected in a person's demeanor and attitude. Competence comes across through verbal communication. And physical attractiveness is all about appearance. The "Warmth and Competence Model" is widely accepted as explaining how humans perceive and judge one another. According to Chris Malone, chief advisory officer of the Relational Capital Group (, this model has been researched and validated in 37 countries and cultures around the world and found to represent an instinctive human thought process that at one time aided survival and continues to be the way we perceive people, products, and services today.

The model works like this: In encounters with others, one must quickly determine whether the "other" is a friend or foe (i.e., intends good or ill). Next one must decide if the other has the ability to act on those intentions. People who are perceived as warm, competent, and attractive elicit uniformly positive emotions and behavior, whereas those who are perceived as lacking those qualities elicit negativity. Recent research has shown that warmth, competence, and attractiveness explain over 80% of how people perceive one another; and make up nearly 90% of the strength of business relationships.

Appearance is the primary aspect of an individual's personality that meets the eye. An unkempt look, body odor, and bad breath top the chart in creating a poor impression. Communication skills are next in line. Articulation influences the first impression as it conveys one's level of intelligence, education, and technical competence. Apart from words, voice modulation, pitch, and gestures also hold significance. Wandering eyes or fidgety gestures demonstrate a lack of interest. A sloppy posture, avoidance of eye contact, a shaky voice, and nervousness are prime hindrances to a positive first impression.

Focusing on the other person

During the first encounter, your focus must be on the other person—not yourself. Make the other person the center of attention and importance and begin the interaction on the right note. Give the individual the opportunity to speak, and emphasize that you're a good listener. The skills of good listening include stable eye contact and affirmative verbal clues that show you are interested in learning more.

The power of a smile. Like it or not, judgments based on facial appearance play a powerful role in how one person treats another. Psychologists have found that traits such as likeability, competence, and trustworthiness are interpreted from facial expressions. Your smile is most important. When you smile, you are likely to get a warm reception. It is hard for the other person not to reciprocate.

Researchers at the University of California Medical School in San Francisco say we can pick up a smile from 30 meters away. If you wait until you are shaking someone's hand, it might be too late. It's also a good idea to smile when you make a phone call. The warmth of a smile creates a positive first impression even over the phone!

It is said that 7% of the meaning of communication comes from the words themselves while another 38% is based on tone of voice and the remaining 55% on body language. Are your arms crossed? Are you leaning back? Or are you smiling, engaged in the conversation, leaning forward, and nodding?

A word about dress. A picture is worth a thousand words. So the "picture" you present says much about you to the person you are meeting for the first time. Your dress sends a message about you and, believe it or not, your skills and your organization. While it takes only a few seconds to form a first impression, more than half of that first impression is based on appearance. You must ask yourself, "Is my appearance saying the right things to help me create a positive first impression?"

Professional dress is a critical component of your brand as well as that of your organization. Maintaining a competitive edge requires that you and your staff sustain a consistent visual impression. Dressing in a professional manner garners respect from the other person. It also allows you to feel confident and poised. If you want to be taken seriously, you must dress for success.

Top 10 strategies to create a positive first impression

Because the first impression of you often lasts a long time and affects all of your relationships, it is essential that you consider the following top 10 strategies in creating a positive first impression:

1. Be on time—Someone you are meeting for the first time is not interested in your "good excuse" for running late. Arriving early is much better than arriving late and is the first step in creating a positive first impression.

2. A winning smile—Smile and the world smiles too. There is nothing like a smile to create a good first impression. A warm and confident smile will put both you and the other person at ease.

3. Body language—When it comes to first impressions, body language speaks louder than words. Stand tall, smile, make eye contact, and greet with a firm handshake. Your body language can project confidence and self-assurance. If you are calm and confident, the other person will feel comfortable.

4. Dress for success—Physical appearance matters. The person you are meeting for the first time doesn't know you. Your appearance is usually the first clue he or she has to go on.

5. Be positive and courteous—A positive attitude helps to create a good first impression. It also goes without saying that good manners and attentive, courteous behavior will enhance the manner in which you are perceived. Turn off your cell phone and give the new acquaintance 100% of your attention. Manners really matter!

6. Do your homework—Learn as much as possible about the person you are about to meet for the first time. The other person will be impressed that you took the time to do so. Google and LinkedIn are excellent research tools. Doing your homework demonstrates your conscientious nature.

7. Be a good listener—What do people enjoy more than anything in the world? Talking about themselves, their goals, passions, hobbies, family, business, etc. Your listening skills will create a positive first impression and get the relationship off to a great start.

8. Bring an agenda—If your first encounter is a business meeting, come prepared with an agenda. The agenda demonstrates that you value the other person's time. For "extra credit," reproduce the logo of your new acquaintance's company on the agenda and watch his or her eyes light up.

9. Maintain eye contact—Because your focus must be on the other person, eye contact is essential. To make a good impression, you must capture the other person's complete attention. Your focused eyes demonstrate interest and respect. Wandering eyes show disrespect.

10. Visualization—Mentally rehearse your initial encounter before it takes place. See yourself smiling, relaxed, and connecting with the other person. Visualize how a positive meeting will unfold. Visualization is a strategy used by successful people in all walks of life including, but not limited to, entertainers and athletes. Mental preparation has a positive impact and results.

You've heard that you never get a second chance to make a first impression; now you know how to make your first impression a great impression.

The authors

Scott Addis is the president and CEO of The Addis Group and Addis Intellectual Capital, LLC (AIC). Christin Myers is director of training and coaching at AIC. AIC is a coaching and consulting company whose purpose is to transform the process that insurance agents, brokers and carriers use when working with their clients. Scott is a recognized leader selected as the Philadelphia finalist for the Inc. Magazine "Entrepreneur of the Year Award" as well as being named one of the "25 Most Innovative Agents in America" by The National Alliance. To learn more about the "The Power of First Impressions,"contact Scott at or (610) 945-1019 and Christin at or (610) 945-1021. Visit AIC's Web site


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