How to Not Waste the First 7 Seconds of a First Impression

In one of the online training sessions I hosted a couple of months back, “6 Key Mistakes to Avoid When Creating a Confident, Powerful Image”, one of the participants asked a very common but intelligent question about first impressions.

She asked: “I’ve learned the first 7 seconds when we meet somebody new are the most vital. How can I make sure I don’t waste those 7 seconds?”

I love this question because I’m fascinated with first impressions and the whole psychological process we go through when we meet somebody for the first time.

Despite what you might think, first impressions aren’t as simple or straight forward as you’d like them to be.

Below I want to explain more about first impressions, and tell you how to not waste the first 7 seconds.

1. How Long Does it Take to Form a First Impression?

Research on this question varies. Some believe it takes 30 seconds to form a first impression. Others believe it takes 2-3 seconds. There was even a study done by Princeton psychologists that found it takes only a tenth of a second to form an impression of somebody.

Whatever study or figure you choose to follow, what’s sure is that first impressions are fast. To give you a benchmark to go by, the decisions or judgements the other person is going to make about you will happen on average in about 7 seconds. In this short amount of time, you might not even have the time to speak!

2. The Psychology of How First Impressions Are Formed

So we’ve established that on average it takes about 7 seconds to form a first impression. Now, I want to go through the psychological process that happens when a first impression is being formed.

Here’s a situation that you might be able to relate to:

You’re walking down the street. You see somebody walking toward you from the opposite direction. It’s a woman. You notice her clothes. She’s wearing an expensive looking suit and is impeccably groomed. She takes large strides and walks fast. You think to yourself, “she must have an important job, she’s probably a powerful woman”. You can imagine her being the leader of a large office and living in a big house. You’ve imagined all of this without that person saying a word!

Here’s the psychological process you just went through in those 7 seconds:

First, you looked at the woman’s appearance. Her clothes looked expensive and she was well groomed. This led you to think she was successful and wealthy.

Second, you looked at her body language. She took large strides and walked fast. This led you to think she was confident, powerful, and determined to get where she wanted to go.

Third, you made assumptions about other areas of her life such as her job and her lifestyle. Based on her clothes and body language, you thought she must have a high-powered job, be in charge of a large office, and live in a large house.

Fourth, from the few seconds you saw this woman, you formed a first impression filter. So if you bump into this woman again at your local coffee shop, everything you see or hear about her will be filtered through the first impression you just formed.

When you meet somebody for the first time, you immediately start taking in and processing information about them. You first look at their outfit and appearance. Then, you look at their body language to make decisions about that person.

And even though you only have a tiny snippet of information about that person (7 seconds worth), you will assume that tiny snippet represents 100% of that person, their life, and that they are like that all the time. This information helps you create a first impression filter.

Any extra information you learn about the other person after those 7 seconds will be filtered through this first impression that you formed.

That’s why you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Basically the lesson that you need to remember here is the information you show in the first 7 seconds is the most important because it’s that information that will help the other person form either a positive or negative first impression of you.

So, if you want to not waste those 7 seconds, keep reading to find out what you need to do.

3. How to Not Waste the First 7 Seconds

Ultimately what the other person will be focusing on in the first 7 seconds is your outfit and body language.

First, you need to choose an outfit that sends the message you want. Ask yourself, what image do you want to project? Do you want to look open and friendly, or confident and powerful? And choose an outfit that creates that image.

For example, you’re meeting a potential client and you have to convince that client to sign with your advertising agency. You want to look like an expert, somebody they can rely on who has authority in that industry. Wearing a charcoal or navy blue suit will help you immediately convey authority when that client sees you. Incorporating vibrant accessories or colours into your outfit will help you get noticed and remembered.

Second, your body language and facial expressions need to extend and correlate with the image you created with your outfit. If you want to look confident and powerful, you’ll have to adopt confident and powerful looking body language postures. So take up more space, keep your head high when you’re talking to others, maintain strong posture, and of course make good eye contact. Remember, all of these nonverbal gestures will be read and interpreted in 7 seconds.

And don’t forget to smile. In the event you come across as too confident or pushy, it will help tone down your look and make you look more approachable and friendly.

Now I’d love to hear from you. Did you learn something from this article and video? What is the most important piece of information you’re going to use for your next first impression?

About Kara

Kara Ronin is the founder of Executive Impressions. She is an executive coach who specialises in leadership presence, social skills and business etiquette. She is also the creator of Bestselling Udemy course, Business Etiquette 101. Kara’s advice and unique perspectives have been featured in Time Inc., Business Insider, Ignites Europe (a Financial Times Service), The Muse, The Local France, The West Australian, and more. Kara works regularly with lawyers, investment bankers, and finance professionals to help them build presence, authority and influence in business. Get Kara's insights delivered straight to your inbox