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How to Make a Winning First Impression

Most of the time, the way people form first impressions has nothing to do with words.

Dan Dalton / Getty Images/Caiaimage

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My mother always warned me that you never have a second chance to make a good first impression. One day, I finally asked her, "How do you make a good one?" She smiled, looked at me, and said, "Good question — I don't know what to tell you except look nice and have good posture!"

Being the nerd I was (and am), I set off to find the answer. The best research I could find came from a UCLA study that was done by psychologist Albert Mehrabian. It found 93 percent of how people form first impressions actually has nothing to do with words. It was about facial expression, appearance, level of interest shown and vocal tone.

I started to practice what I had learned from their findings, and began getting more job offers, closing more deals and making friends more easily. It really was that simple.

Here is the secret formula I teach my clients at Smart Dating Academy to make a great first impression on dates and everywhere in life by softening your body language. We use "SOFTENUP" as an acronym to help them remember the following points:

  • S: Smile: The MOST important and easiest way to make someone feel that you are happy, warm and welcoming. Think of someone you love before you meet someone new to create a warm, genuine smile.
  • O: Open arms: Our reptilian brains still guide us and when we see someone with crossed arms, we automatically can assume they have something to hide or are closed off. Open your arms — even if you're cold.
  • F: Forward leaning: Leaning slightly in towards the person you're speaking with tells them you're engaged and interested.
  • T: Touch: Touching someone appropriately can create a subconscious bond and warm a person's heart. Touching on the hand, wrist or forearm is totally acceptable. Make sure it's from your heart or it will seem insincere.
  • E: Eye contact: Eye contact is MOST important when you're the listener. Try to keep your eyes on your partner at least 60 percent of the time.
  • N: Nodding: A slow, purposeful nod subconsciously signals good things. It can be received as "I agree," "yes," or "you are right!" All good things! Though don't nod too eagerly like a bobble-headed dog in a taxi cab or you'll risk looking anxious!
  • U: Undivided attention: Nothing is more seductive than a totally present listener. Don't look around or over the person's shoulder, or you'll lose them at hello!
  • P: Positivity: Only say things that are positive. If it's a cold, sunny day outside, comment that the sun is shining brightly instead of moaning about the temperature.

A first impression can take anywhere from 30 seconds to up to five minutes to form — and once it's set, it's hard to undo.

When people see you as interested and warm, you are often granted a "halo" effect. People make positive assumptions about you: "He/she must be successful, and have a lot of friends." The foil to that is the "horns" effect — which comes with a "negative impression" (you must be unhappy, etc.).

Practice SOFTENUP starting today — with everyone you meet, and watch the positive energy start to flow in your direction!

Bela Gandhi is the president of Smart Dating Academy, a date and relationship coaching service that helps singles find happy and lasting love at all ages.

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