We’re often told not to judge a book by its cover. But as science has proven time and again, first impressions count for a lot more than we’re ready to admit.
While it’s not ideal, we all form initial opinions based on the most arbitrary things. Researchers even found that it only takes us a few seconds to judge someone we just met.
As the old saying goes, you won’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Here are 10 ways to make sure your presentations start off right:
1. Arrive early
Time is valuable, so make sure you don’t make anyone wait. The people in your audience took a few moments from their busy schedules to listen to your presentation. Respect that and always be the first one to arrive at the venue.
2. Look your best
According to the University of Hertfordshire’s Professor Karen Pine and her colleagues, first impressions are largely based on physical appearance, so you have to look your best. Make sure you’re wearing clothes that are appropriate for the occasion. The general rule is to always dress a little bit better than the audience would. Always check the clothes you’re planning to wear for any rips or missing buttons. You should also be mindful of personal grooming.
3. Mind your body language and non-verbal cues
As we’ve established previously, you can say a lot without saying anything at all. When facing an audience, it’s important to keep in mind the non-verbal cues you’re giving off. Avoid gestures that look closed off or defensive. Strengthen your connection with the audience by maintaining constant eye-contact.
4. Shake off your nerves
It’s hard to project confidence if presentations makes you feel anxious. Before taking the stage, take a moment to calm yourself down with breathing exercises. You can also try to pump yourself up by listening to your own power music.
Of course, there’s no better way to show off a positive attitude than through a sincere smile. Don’t forget to flash a big smile the moment you step up to face your audience.
6. Start strong
Create an emotional connection with your audience as soon as you begin your presentation. To capture their attention, try to come up with a creative way to open your speech. Sims Wyeth of INC.com made a list of a few techniques that you can try.
7. Know your presentation well
Aside from a positive attitude, it’s also important to exude a feeling of trustworthiness. To do that, you need to know your presentation well. Prepare everything you need long before you’re scheduled to present. Most importantly, take the time to rehearse your presentation as much as you can.
8. Handle interruptions and difficult questions with grace
They say that we tend to reveal our “true self” during high-stress situations. During a presentation, you could end up facing a situation you didn’t prepare for. Whether it’s a heckler trying to get a rise out of you or a question you don’t have an answer for, always remain calm and keep your composure.
9. Avoid presentation clichés
Sometimes, first impressions are also formed based on previous experiences. Set yourself apart from all those bad presentations that people continue to see. Avoid committing common presentation mistakes such as bad PowerPoint decks and reading directly from your slides.
10. Be genuine and enjoy your time on stage
It’s important to put your best foot forward during a presentation. But it’s also crucial to be yourself and enjoy your time on stage. Sincerity comes easier when you’re not putting up a front. Be yourself, enjoy, and give your best as you present.
After a few conversations, you’ll be able to get to know one another on a deeper and more personal level. Unfortunately, this won’t be the case when you have to face an audience and deliver a presentation. Especially for big events, your audience will mostly be made up of people you’ve never met before.
That could be about 50 different individuals hastily judging the way you look, speak, and even stand. How can you make your message count if the audience has already decided that you’re sloppy, untrustworthy, and unprofessional?
Rowh, Mark. “First Impressions Count.” American Psychological Association. Accessed September 11, 2014.
Pine, Karen J., Fletcher Howett, and Neil Howett. “The Effect of Appearance on First Impressions.” Karen Pine. Accessed September 11, 2014.
Featured Image: anthony kelly via Flickr