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One microsecond — one millionth of a second — is all it takes to make a lasting impression, good or bad. That’s what Alex Todorov, a Princeton University psychologist, and Janine Willis, a student researcher, determined when they showed research subjects a mere microsecond of a political candidate on video. The research subjects predicted with 70 percent accuracy who would win the election.
Fair or unfair, one microsecond sealed the deal. Whether it’s in business, politics or personal relationships, first impressions are hard to erase. There rarely is an opportunity for “re-dos.” Make a bad first impression and you may lose a vote, be edged out in a competitive sales situation or be turned down for a new position.
Sometimes we don’t even get the opportunity to make a lasting first impression in person. Often we are judged solely on the words we write — a website, business proposal or resume. Our words must and can make a strong and positive case for us.
Here are some strategies for making a great first impression, in person or in words.
- Be prepared. Before you meet with a potential client or employer, carefully consider what you want to communicate. Do the same thing when you are writing. Writing is a thought process. Before you write, you need to understand your audience, the information that they want and what you should share to arrive at the outcome you want. Organize your thoughts so it is easy for your reader to digest your key ideas.
- Offer a strong handshake. Wimpy handshakes make a bad impression. Wimpy writing does as well. Make your writing strong by articulating your points carefully, using powerful verbs and eliminating superfluous words and phrases. Strong writing is the result of careful thought and relentless editing for content, style and mechanics.
- Accessorize carefully. Accessories can make or break a first impression. A classic watch or piece of jewelry can easily sway an individual’s opinion of you. In the world of writing, adjectives and adverbs serve as accessories. Choose your modifiers carefully to add detail to your writing. Avoid their overuse, especially superlatives, or risk having your writing sound unauthentic and unbelievable.
- Make eye contact. When we make eye contact, we connect with the person to whom we are speaking. In words, we do this by writing from the reader’s perspective. To do this, we need to understand who our readers are, what type of information is valuable to them and how we can best provide that information to make the connection. Look your reader in the eye and write for him or her.
- Take a last look in the mirror. A glance in the mirror gives us the confidence that after careful preparation, we look our best. In writing, proofreading does the same thing. After drafting and carefully editing your work, proofread it for spelling and grammatical errors. When you are done, you are ready to make a great first and lasting impression in words.