5 Ways to a Better First Impression

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 {Before my SXSW Panel in 2012}

{Before my SXSW Panel in 2012}

Public speaking is a top fear for many people. Early in my corporate career, I was given the opportunity to take a Toastmasters class to improve that skill. Talking in front of a crowd was something that I struggled with, and it was even more difficult when I stood up in front of my peers and co-workers. What I learned in that class has helped many of my formal interactions – whether that's a cocktail party with new people, a business lunch, or a speaking engagement – I’m much more comfortable talking to strangers than I used to be. I also learned the value of making a strong first impression and how to avoid some of the common pitfalls. Here are five tips I learned for coming across confident, smart and self-assured.

1.Up speak. This is one of my biggest pet peeves because I used to do it all the time. Up speaking refers to the act of turning a regular statement into what sounds more like a question. My sentences used to lilt higher, which made me sound unsure of myself instead of poised and assertive. 

2.Don’t apologize. Unless you've wronged someone or made a mistake, there's no need to apologize. It's so common for women to start sentences with "I'm sorry but," which is completely unnecessary. I know the phrase is also often used as a "false apology," but it decreases the impact of your statement. Stand by what you're saying, since your opinion has value and shouldn't be lessened by apologizing.

3.Firm handshake. This may sound obvious, but I'm constantly surprised by how many women introduce themselves with a handshake that feels like a limp fish. In some cases, I think this is actually perpetuated by men, who will occasionally cradle my hand in theirs as if I'm a fragile doll instead of a normal woman. Make good eye contact, use a firm grip and a friendly smile especially when you get a hand-cradle shake. 

4. Refrain from using fillers. At Toastmasters, one of the more uncomfortable lessons involved eliminating filler words. We'd be given a random topic to speak about for 1-2 minutes and someone would sit there tallying the amount of times you used words like um, uh, like and so on. It was painful. We all slowly learned that it was actually better to let there be short silences between thoughts than using fillers that don't add to the conversation. 

5.Stand tall. I'm a fidgety person and can't sit still for extended periods of time. When it comes to social situations though, it's important to stand tall and avoid things that make you appear unfriendly, like crossing your arms or shifting your weight from side to side. If you look steady and approachable, you'll make a much stronger first impression.