How to Make A Great First Impression: The Five-Step Formula

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By: Maralee McKee

Knowing how to make a great first impression is probably the number one topic of importance in all of etiquette land. That’s because it not only puts you in charge of the way you present yourself to the world, but also determines the ways others think about, respond to, and interact with you.

And it all happens in the blink of an eye.

Psychologists and sociologists differ a little on exactly how long it takes for someone to form an opinion of us.  They argue for anything from three seconds to thirty seconds. The vast majority of professionals place the amount of time at or under ten seconds. Regardless of whether it’s three seconds or thirty, it’s an incredibly short amount of time for us to make our mark!

For the sake of this blog post, let’s use ten seconds. It’s all the time people need for their eyes to scan us from head to toe and place us in a neat little box in their minds. Escaping their mental box is almost impossible.

People want to believe that their opinion was right, not wrong.

So for anything you do after that ten seconds, whether it’s a day or a year later, they’re going to use it to make a case for their initial judgment.

In those initial ten seconds of meeting, they judge (rightly or wrongly) your: abilities, intentions, attitudes, intelligence, socio-economic status, degree of education, friendliness, likability, trustworthiness, and even whether you’re better suited to be a leader or a follower.

In professional settings, this “summing up” not only applies to you, but it carries over to judgments about the quality and value of the service, organization, mission or product you represent.

There’s a chapter about this topic in my book Manners That Matter for  Moms. In it, I share both the adult and child versions of the formula you use to make a great first and lasting impression. (It’s well worth the read for all adults, especially those who have children who are following their lead.)

What I’ve done for you here is put together a list of the Top Five Tips. Keep in mind: you want to do all of these in the first ten seconds or less whenever you first meet someone. And, of course, it’s nice to extend the same graciousness when greeting long-time friends.

These five skills show you at your best, because they make others feel special. And who doesn’t like to feel special?! Not to mention that when you make people feel that way, they consider you a kind, exceptional person for the level of attention and care you showed towards them.

The skills below are subtle. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that they’re not impacting!

You’ll notice that subtlety places a major role in the art of good manners. (Manners is from the ancient Latin word for hand. The definition later expanded to include the best practices for handling a situation.) We never have to shout our good manners. In a simple, unaffected way, we simply and quietly make them a part of our character.

The Top 5 Tips for Making a Great First Impression!

1. Stand up! Man or woman, these days we all stand up to meet someone new or to greet a friend.

As soon as you see the person(s) approaching, stand to welcome them. It shows you’re anticipating them coming over to you, and it’s a non-verbal statement that you’re looking forward to being with them.

When you stand to meet or greet people, you’re literally rising to the occasion of being in their presence!

2. Don’t Let Anything Come Between You and the Other Person! As you stand to greet someone, walk from behind anything that will physically separate the two of you. Come out from behind a coffee table, foot stool, desk, or any other item, even if it’s short.

You want nothing between you except air!


It sends an unconscious but powerful message that you trust the other person and that you don’t feel you need to keep your distance by having a physical object between the two of you.

3. Smile! This one might seem like it’s too elementary to even bother to list. However, it’s an impacting, gracious invitation, and most of us don’t smile as much as we think we do.

Put a big grin on your face, larger than you think you should. Then, you’re probably smiling just about the right amount.

Why is a smile so important?

It’s your non-verbal invitation to join you. It speaks for you from across the room before you’ve had the chance to dazzle the person with your wit and charm. 🙂

You wouldn’t smile at someone who frightened you. So when you do smile at someone, it says for you, “Come on over!” and continues with, “I’m glad to be with you!”

4. Look The Person Right in the Eyes! Eye contact is a biggie.

No one is absolutely sure they have your attention until your eyes meet.

Are you like me? Have you seen someone and then become confused for a moment, wondering whether the person is anticipating you, or someone behind you?

Well, you figured out the answer by watching their eyes. If the eyes of the other person(s) drifted past you, then you knew they were waiting for someone else. And don’t let people wonder whether you’re wanting them to interact with you. Give everyone the courtesy of looking them in the eyes.

It’s a gift of yourself that lets others know in an instant that they’re the center of your attention.

You’re handshake is your personal olive branch and welcome mat.

5. Shake Hands! This is the most important of the five skills because it’s where you physically connect with the other person. The two of you join your good intentions towards one another with a physical seal of approval.

Your handshake is your personal olive branch and welcome mat. Always try to be the first to extend your hand.

Gone are the days when men had to wait for a lady to extend her hand first. (Exceptions are when men are interacting with women who are much older than they are, with European woman, and with women in Middle Eastern and Muslim cultures.)

To be prepared to shake hands if you’re right-handed, make it a habit to carry everything in your left hand: papers, books, laptop cases, purses, drinks…you name it; carry it in your left hand so you’re always ready to shake hands without losing a few of your precious ten seconds with awkward moments of shifting items from your right to left hand before you can accept an outstretched hand.

Have you ever run into huggers or cheek kissers, and, while you like them enough, you just aren’t comfortable being hugged or kissed by them? If so, or if you’re a hugger (True confession: I am!) or a kisser, this post shares the how-tos of how to handle graciously those unwanted X’s and O’s! Manners for Great Greetings. 

See! They’re Easy and Impacting!

There, you go! The best tips for making a great impression! They’re all easy-peasy, and once you do them enough times to become habit, you’ll be connecting with others on a whole new level — one that says, “I’m confident, more than capable, and gracious!” With a combination of those traits, you’re going to be hard to ignore!

What’s Next?

Stop by the Manners Mentor Facebook Page to ask me any questions and pick up tips every day.

Please subscribe to the Manners Mentor posts. You can do so in the box below this or any post on the blog. When you do, you’ll receive my FREE, illustrated guide to dining. It’s full of simple formulas that take the mystery out of any dining situation: business, social or family. You’ll be the most confident diner at any meal!

Plus, please Like, Share, Tweet, Pin and Email this post to your friends, family and those in your social media circles. The more people who know about the Manners Mentor blog, the more we all spread the message that manners still matter!

Until next week, give the world the gift that only you can give, the gift that you were created to give, you….at your best!



Maralee McKee

About Maralee McKee

Maralee McKee is the founder of Manners Mentor. With her best-friend style, sense of humor, and knack for updating etiquette to meet our modern sensibilities, she has been referred to as "Sandra Bullock meets Emily Post!" Maralee shows you how to become the best version of yourself. No fluff. No pretense. Just you at your authentic best! The person you were always meant to be! To learn more about Maralee click on the "Meet Maralee" or "New? Start Here" links at the top of this page.

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