2 Key First Impression Questions

Appearance (in terms of wardrobe, grooming, body language and physical features) is of great importance as first impressions are being formed. These appearance factors might be best thought of as strong visual clues that affect judgements along with your words and tonality. The average person doesn’t break down the information to decide why they have formed the impression they’ve formed in the few seconds it takes.

They do ask themselves these two important questions:

Can I trust this person? Can I respect this person?

Amy Cuddy, Harvard Social Psychologist teaches this to us in her lectures based on extensive research. The first question is about whether an individual is warm and the second is about whether or not they are competent.

Amy Cuddy and colleagues found that many people perceive competence as being the more important of the two but warmth is actually more important because it is connected to trustworthiness. Apparently, most people attempt to asses competence after they’ve established some rapport or trust.

In terms of relevance for image development, this information gives us extra motivation to ensure that we feature our approachability and warmth. This matters during the first impression and beyond. It is of course more natural for some than others but you can build this up in a way that is authentic and sincere.

When someone’s first interaction with you includes conversation there are clear advantages and many things you can do to demonstrate how approachable and trustworthy you can be. However, someone’s first impression of you may be formed when see a photo of you or speak to you by phone. In these scenarios they judge from the visual or from the vocal qualities only.

Most of us give presentations of some kind…meetings (online or in-person), workshops, keynotes. Even a starter self-analysis and implementation can put you at a huge advantage. Connecting with our audiences quickly means that we have exponentially better odds when it comes to helping them, selling to them, or simply establishing ourselves as credible when delivering important information.

Action steps:

  1. When you meet new people this week or next, ask yourself how their image (visual and verbal) may have influenced your perception of them with respect to the 2 key questions. If you want to share your insights with me, I would love to hear them!
  1. Remember to consider appearing even more warm and approachable when preparing to go if your intention is to build and strengthen relationships
  1. If you’re skilled at strategic self-styling, select colours, silhouettes and accessories that keep you looking highly approachable while you observe your dress codes. Make sure to stay in harmony with your brand and your personality style. It’s the surface stuff, but it matters in those first seconds or milliseconds.


Styling is often an appropriate place to begin if you have doubts because your attire affects your self-confidence in the moment and the way you feel about yourself. This can in turn affect your body language and facial expressions. “People often draw trait inferences from the facial appearance of other people” (Willis and Todorov, 2006) in the critical first few milliseconds.


I was able to attend Ms. Cuddy’s presentation in Toronto this year. I prefer to sit up front but options were limited. Interestingly but not surprisingly, you can perceive her warmth from the back of the theatre!

I confess I’ve not yet finished reading my copy of Amy Cuddy’s book but I highly recommend it for anyone interested in the science of presence as I am.

Featured photo credit: from amycuddy.com