#554: Why You Only Get ONE CHANCE To Make A First Impression

Want to know the science behind making an impactful first impression?

Prof. Alexander Todorov is a world leading professor of psychology at Princeton University and he shares why you only get one chance to make a first impression in business on this episode of the podcast.

I’ve laid out the most important and actionable suggestions below the video.

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They are Automatic

First impressions are automatic. They’re unconsciously made which means that they are either a tool to instantly increase the level of rapport you have with a potential customer or they are putting you at an incredible disadvantage.

Prof. Todorov shares that we make all kind of consequential judgements about others such as “whether the person is trustworthy, competent, aggressive and so on” way before our conscious mind actually thinks about the person they are stood in front of.

We are programmed this way so that we can easily “figure out the intentions of others”. Essentially, so we can get a good grasp of whether someone is going to hit us over the head with a stick and take all our stuff, without having to sit down and have a conversation with them.

You Only Get One Chance To Make A First Impression

Studies have shown that once an individual has made a first impression, they filter every activity from that person through their assumptions.

They’re looking for things you do or traits you have to confirm their predictions, rather than justify if it was correct or not in the first place. They have a heavy bias towards being right rather than objectively testing assumptions.

This is why it’s so important to make a good first impression in business as it can be very hard to recover from a negative one.

Late for your first sales meeting? You’ll be known as the “late dude”.

Brought doughnuts in to butter the customer up? They’ll be expecting doughnuts the next time too.

You were actually surprisingly professional and helpful? Their secretary will book appointments in the diary whenever it suits you.

How To Make A Better First Impression

There are three main indicators the prospect is looking out for when they first set eyes on us. They are –

  • Status – Are we high or low status? Should they be grateful we’re spending time with them as some of it might rub off? Or should they get us out of their office as soon as possible as we’re making them look bad?
  • Danger – Are we twice their size and could rip their heads off in an instant? Or are we small, weak and no physical threat?
  • Ability to help – Can they help me to get to where I want to go? And will they help me solve my problems?

With each of these variables, the person is making an initial impression to see if they should be relaxed, run away or get ready to fight us.

In a business context there is clearly only one goal here, we want our prospect to relax, trust us and open up.

Get It Right The First Time

Instantaneously,  potential customers are judging you when you walk into a room. This is why you only get one chance to make a first impression, as they only have one opportunity to make a snap judgement about you.

So what factors do we need to consider to improve our chances of getting on the good side of our potential new customer?

1) People like individuals like them

We all know the sales cliche “people buy from people they know, like and trust”. When you factor in that you only get one chance to make a first impression with them this becomes even more important, right?

Therefore we need to be relaxed. We need to be interested in the person we’re meeting with (ask questions, don’t tell stories) and “you don’t need to be grinning but do you need to be approachable”.

2) Control the environment

As Prof. Todorov points out, we need to engineer the best time, place and environment to have our first impression as “the momentary state we’re in has a huge effect on what we think about the person”.

Taking someone out for food during the day is far more likely to lead to a positive first impression versus chasing someone down in a car park after they’ve had a long and stressful day in the office.

3) Appear “competent”

One of the most important elements of all this for sales professionals specifically is that we much appear competent.  If we’re trying to sell products, Prof. Todorov suggests that “they must believe that you’re not only trustworthy but also that you have a really reliable opinion”.

So how do we engineer this?

Being an expert in both your industry and knowing your customers, customers inside and out obviously helps but this knowledge can only be demonstrated after you start chatting.

The most important element here is that you look the part, that you are appropriately dressed for the occasion and that you’re well groomed too.

Additionally subtle indicators of success and status such as a luxury watch (Rolex, Omega) can suggest that this isn’t your first rodeo and that you’ve had success helping other people in the past too.


A lot of what Prof. Todorov shared on this episode of The Salesman Podcast is total common sense. But that doesn’t mean that we’re all conscious and paying attention to it.

I’ve seen way to many sales meetings go south before they’ve even started because a sales professional turns up late or is unprepared.

I’ve lost rapport with guests on the podcast by mispronouncing surnames and missing the fact that they’ve just launched a new book that they wanted to promote too!

We’re all making snap judgements about the new people we’re interacting with and so we should focus on tipping them in our favour by being warm, giving the prospect our full attention and being appropriate for the occasion (at least for the first few minutes…).

So don’t forget that you only get one chance to make a first impression. Make it count. 

Resources mentioned:


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