In the realm of understanding the power of microexpressions, little is as important as The First Impression.
“It takes anywhere from 4-10 seconds for a negative thought to take root,” says body language expert Linda Clemons. But you can spend the next half-hour or more trying to correct it. So, when it comes to nonverbal messaging, every gesture and second counts.
How you enter a meeting sets the stage for what happens once that meeting starts, so mastering the art of the entrance offers a real advantage. Here’s how to do it:
Free your mind and, as En Vogue sang, “the rest will follow.” Before you even head down the hall to a meeting, your thoughts are shaping what will happen once you get there so make sure they’re working for, not against, you. “When you speak, tonality is important,” says Clemons. “But the tone of your thoughts is critical too. You won’t win if you show up feeling defeated.”
Tiger Woods uses affirmations. For you, it may be a prayer, mantra, song, or mental image that puts you in the zone. Every elite athlete, world-class performer, and surgeon has one—that psychological anchor that leaves them steady and ready. “We all have triggers that make us crazy and we have others that put us in our sweet spot,” says Clemons. “You want to have your version of that well-honed and always accessible.”
Lose the baggage. Once you’ve dropped whatever’s mentally weighing you down, ditch the physical baggage as well. “We’ve all seen that person—women are especially vulnerable to this—who comes rushing into the room with a purse, briefcase, laptop, coat, phone, coffee, glasses, an umbrella. Just looking at you is stressful,” says Clemons. “Nobody says it but they’re all thinking you’ve already got too much going on. They’re wondering if you can handle what’s on the table in the meeting when you’re already overwhelmed.” Leave some of that stuff in your office, in a closet, or with an assistant. “Bring in only what you need and never more than you can gracefully carry.”
Pause at the door. “This is big,” says Clemons. “Stop, scan the room, and count: 1001…1002…as if to say, ‘I’ve arrived.’” It’s quick, but it makes an impression and allows you to settle yourself and identify where you’ll sit. Do this, even if you’re the last one to show up (assuming you’re not late). Stand tall, with your head up, never down. It silently signals that you’re not afraid of the spotlight; you’re ready and able to be in charge.
Walk with intention. Even if you’re late, don’t run. Don’t drag either. Walk with calm, purpose, and confidence. When you do, it’s compelling and magnetic. “The signal is, ‘I’m here, now we can really get down to business,” says Clemons. “Even if it’s already started, your presence is going to raise the whole game.”
Take your place and own your presence. How would you sit if your chair was a throne, tall and gilded, with a high back and regal air? “Sit like that, with grace and a sense of expectation,” says Clemons, not that anyone’s going to bow down, but to show that you’re in full command of yourself, even if someone else is running the meeting. “Without saying a word, you’re saying your presence is key to whatever’s about to happen,“ says Clemons. “You’re indicating that you have something meaningful to contribute, so attention will be paid.”
Hands Off. When doing presentations you have to be careful of “pacifiers” with your self-touch gestures: playing with your hair, wringing your hands, holding your thumb or wrist or forearm. Clemons is clear: “Don’t do it, and, by the way, the higher the hold, the higher the stress.”