First Impression Hacks

What kind of first impression do you make? Can you hack it?

What kind of first impression do you make? Can you hack it?

First impressions

They take seconds to make, and are a combination of our nonverbals- everything we communicate about ourselves through what we wear, how we interact with our environment and our body-language.

The feedback I give in coaching is based on research (not just personal opinion). The main theme is: What kind of impression do you give, and do you want to give that impression?

Giving a good first impression

In their book ‘First Impressions; What You Don’t Know About How Other See You‘,  Anne Demaris and Valerie White sum up a good first impression:

‘A good first impression is one that reflects the real you. If you are presenting the best of yourself, the self you want to share, then you are making the impression that is right for you.”

First impression hack

The effects of these hacks are only temporary and only statistically significant (read, ‘not foolproof, or 100% consistent’)

For the brave or foolish, read on:

Hand someone a warm drink

Researchers have found when they handed a person a warm drink, they rated a fictional character as being warmer. You can read more about the study here. This finding is interesting for two reasons:

  1. How we may be influenced by our physical environment
  2. How that is reflected in our language

We talk about a person as being ‘warm’ or ‘cold’. This is interesting for a couple of reasons. One is that it indicates how we perceive the world and our emotional response. The second reason this is interesting is because we may be provoking this response in others when we use this language. This is a very new area of study, which already has findings on how the words ‘lick’, ‘kick’ and ‘pick’ light up the movement centre in our brains, not just the language centre. In other words, we have a physical response to hearing these words. (I wrote a post about this research, you can check it out here)

Simple hack #2; make ’em feel good

This one is simple in theory, but might be more of a challenge in practise.

Try directing your conversation partner to a positive emotional state.

Their positive emotional state will then be associated with you…

The reasons this is a challenge is that:

  1. If you’re determined to stay positive when your conversation partner is not, that would indicate that you are emotionally insensitive.
  2. We’re not talking about any creepy NLP/evoke a mildly hypnotic state in someone only so they will walk away feeling the ‘ickyness of manipulation’
  3. It can be a big challenge, and a very rewarding one, to find out what makes someone light up with interest.

For more tips on first impressions, check out this in-depth post on how to assess your own first impressions. The Secrets of First Impressions



Top 3 references for leadership, confidence and communication

Meeting so many inspiring people at the Movers and Breakers conference at Uluru

Meeting so many inspiring people at the Movers and Breakers conference at Uluru

Last week I had the opportunity to go to Uluru as part of Business Chicks‘ Movers and Breakers conference.

In meeting 80+ people, (well, I didn’t meet that many, but I tried!) there were resources I use in my coaching and group workshops that came up again and again.

The Movers and Breakers in front of Uluru

The Movers and Breakers in front of Uluru

Most of the conversations where this came up, we were discussing:

  1. Self-renewal and emotionally intelligent communication for leaders
  2. Confidence for public speaking, and for ‘speaking up’ in crucial conversations
  3. A book on body language for business as a tool for greater understanding and opportunities to communicate better.

One of the many things I love about the work I have the privilege of doing is that it comes from evidence-based research- which means there are a stack of resources I’m delighted to share that are low, or no-cost pathways to increasing confidence, communication and resonant leadership.

  1. Leading with emotional intelligence

    Inspiring Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence is a free online course though Coursera. It runs again in September, but I think you can sign up and watch the videos and read the readings until then. There is a book, Becoming a Resonant Leader connected to this, and the conference inspired me to start working through it with a study-buddy.

  2. Amy Cuddy’s power pose

    This came up a lot when discussion increasing confidence in public speaking situations, or speaking up in meetings.  I wrote about top three tips to get off the emotional rollercoaster of stage-fright earlier this year. It’s Amy Cuddy’s research that led me into further reading on an area that informs a lot of my current work, Embodied Cognition, which looks at how what we do with our body impacts on our thoughts and behaviours (try Sian Beilock’s How the Body Know Its Mind for more on this).

  3. Deeper understanding of nonverbal communication for negotiations and conversations in business.

    Gone are the days of the 80s where body-language was a party trick. These days, we call them nonverbals, and Ex-FBI specialist, Joe Navarro consults regularly with fortune 500 companies, and watches the nonverbals as part of due diligence. His book, Louder Than Words is directed specifically at the world of work.

Top tip for making learning stick?

In my studies as an educator (the beginning of a masters in education, part of studies in tertiary teaching when I was lecturing at universities) I learned that all the recent data points to this one thing: We learn better, and retain information better when we are in a community of learners.

That’s why I have a study-buddy for the Becoming a Resonant Leader workbook, and why I often initiate a community of practice around things that are important to me (songwriting, bands, meditation). I also know that at some conferences, we can learn things that have the potential to change  our world if we let them. We have a much greater opportunity to sustain that change if we are supported by others.

Grab a friend (or few) check out  and share the links above. They are low-cost, or even free, and will help you become a better leader and communicator.

Are you a rockstar coaching client?

Are you a rockstar coaching client? Who gets the most out of coaching?

Are you a rockstar coaching client? Who gets the most out of coaching?

Some people bring out the best in us

You might be thinking I’m talking about the coach here, because that’s the coach’s job. But it takes two to tango, and coaching is a dance for two (or more).

I was coaching Steve today, and our interaction made me reflect that Steve is a rockstar coaching client. Steve (his real name, but not his real photo) is by no means the only brilliant coaching client I’ve ever had, but he reminds me of what I want to be like when I’m being coached.

What are the qualities that make me want to be more like Steve?

Openness to feedback

It can be tough to get feedback. In his job as an engineer, Steve expressed that could easily be lured into the mindset of ‘this has always worked for me in the past.’ I’ll have to ask him what drives him to be so open, but I know two things from being coached, and being a coach that make me aware of why being open to feedback helps.

Being coached:

As a singer and dancer, feedback is part of the gig, and it can be tough. I know that when I’ve defended or explained why I was doing something the way I was, I lost the opportunity to learn more. When I started out with being coached, I felt that all feedback was personal. And some of the feedback was personal- and that tended to be the place I learned the most! The longer I was coached, the more I realised I could get out of my coaches if I let myself be guided. I still find it challenging, and nerve wracking, and frustrating to be coached. I also know that the discomfort I feel is part of the evidence that I’m being stretched, and these ‘growing pains’ will result in some new learning.

As a coach:

I learned through post-graduate studies in education, that many people given feedback try to: justify, argue, defend, explain (JADE, educators love an acronym, here’s a related article). And it helped me understand my own behaviour as a student. It also made sense that when my students showed openness, and enthusiasm, that it was so much easier to give them more of the learning I had to offer. Their passion and commitment made me stretch to find other interesting things to engage them even more.

Willingness to fail

Steve sees mistakes as learning experiences. He’s not afraid to lose face by doing something wrong. That means we get to put all of our energy into the next step of creating something even greater than our first draft.

Enthusiasm for the process

Enthusiasm is infectious, and positive emotions allow us to be more open to a creative process. With this positive approach, it’s easy to go into what researcher, Barbera Friederickson, calls ‘broaden and build’. Where we are open to new possibilities- our world is larger (including our visual as well as perceptual field). This broaden and build theory shows that in this state, we are more resilient, and better at academic performance.

This also helps us see larger connections, which is evident in coaching Steve when he comments on how something he just learned builds on, and connects with all the other things we have worked on together.

I love coaching someone like Steve, because it inspires me to greater creativity as a coach. Don’t get me wrong, some of my proudest coaching moments have come when someone who appeared very resistant to the entire process told me later that it had changed their life.

But Steve teaches me how I want to be when I’m being coached.

What new approach can you try to be more open to feedback this week?

Body language’s most reliable indicator?


What is the most reliable indicator of intent in body language?

It’s also the most overlooked; the feet.

They lift up when we’re happy (gravity defying) and point in the direction we want to go.

Do you feel like the person you are talking with might need to leave?

Check their feet. If those toes are pointing towards the door, you can be fairly sure that’s where the rest of the body wants to go too.

The Secrets of First Impressions

Does your first impression leave a lemony taste?

What kind of impression do give others? Does it leave a sweet or sour after-taste?

First Impressions

What do people judge us on in the first three seconds of our first meeting?

Is it:

a) our vast and deep knowledge of our area of work, or

b) the coffee stain on our shirt, accompanied by that blob of Weet-Bix?

If you answered b) give yourself a pat on the back. Unless we are well known for a) it’s probably b)

Most of the information we communicate before we open our mouth is with our non-verbals. That includes our body-language, our posture and how we are dressed, and our grooming.

How do we make a good impression?

This can be summed up in one sentence: Think about the comfort of the other person.

Make eye-contact, listen, check that your listener is engaged. When we get stuck in self-consciousness we forget to be conscious of others.

One of my favourite first impressions goes to Samantha.  She strode across the room with purpose, with direct eye contact and a warm smile, she held out her hand to shake and used my name;

‘Zerafina, I’ve heard so much about you and have been looking forward to meeting you.’ Aww shucks. It’s nice to be noticed.

The Horns or Halo effect

When we meet someone for the first time, that snapshot is 100% of what we know about that person. Our tendency is to perceive that person bathed in the light of that ‘thin-slice’ of information.

If we serve up a bitter-lemon thin slice, others will perceive us to be the whole lemon. All of our subsequent actions will be judged in light of this information. This would be the ‘horns’-effect.

If we are kind to the waiter, polite to others around us, and make others feel comfortable, our subsequent actions are judged in light of this ‘halo.’

How to make a bad impression

  1. Complain
  2. Focus on yourself
  3. Be rude to others
  4. Criticise something
  5. Break promises
  6. Send dismissive or rude emails

There are plenty of other things we could add to this list. Often we do some or all of them assuming that others will know that we are just having an ‘off-day.’ But that’s the sum total of everything a new person knows about us.

How to make a better impression

  1. Look at the list above
  2. Find the opposite of each of the list items
  3. Find ways to demonstrate those things.


Last of all- check your shirt for coffee and Weet-Bix. It’s easier to be forgiven for the coffee stain than making others feel uncomfortable, but it helps to look like we’ve made an effort with our appearance.

What can you do this week to improve the first-impression you give?

How Do You Make Your Audience Feel?

Movement for speakers

How do you move your audience? Move yourself. (photo of Zerafina conducting stretches for best voice usage in Brisbane)

I get a lot of requests to help people feel more confident speaking in front of an audience. We work together on everything from preparation to content and nonverbals (body language).

I was coaching a highly competent leader today, let’s call her Liz, and this was the biggest revelation for her:

It’s not all about you, it’s all about your audience.

Liz, like many others, felt self-conscious about presenting because:

I don’t like everyone looking at me

What are audiences looking for when they are ‘looking at’ you in a presentation?

They are looking for information that supports their understanding of what you’re saying. For example, if you tell them you are happy about something, it helps if you look and sound happy about it.

Ideally, your audience wants you to help them understand what you have to communicate. And they are hoping that you will keep them interested.

Presenting is like singing a song

I explained to Liz that when I first started singing when I was nineteen I was terrified of the audience. I remember my singing teacher, Andi Garing, coming to one of my early performances at a small bar, the Maluca Bar in Gertrude st, Fitzroy.

I have a clear mental image of my shoes; they were black, shiny brogues. I remember following all the swirls and dots in the patterns on the leather as the audience applauded, thinking:

If only they would stop clapping, I can get back to singing.

Wisely, my teacher suggested that I acknowledge the applause (something most people, even professional public speakers forget to do).

At nineteen, before a performance, I was so nervous, I would change my outfit about ten times before the gig. I’d get to the bar and have a drink of wine or vodka to try and settle my nerves. Then I’d be so worried about feeling too sleepy that I’d follow the drink up immediately with an espresso coffee. In retrospect, it wasn’t a particularly productive pre-performance routine, and did nothing to calm my nerves.

Performing was such an emotionally harrowing experience, that I put an enormous amount of research into finding ways to master the mental and physical tools for positive performance.

My brilliant singing teacher, Andi,  helped to put some of it in context:

It’s not about you when you sing a song; it’s about the audience. You are asking them if they have shared the experience you are singing about. ‘Do you know what this feels like? Have you been here too?’

Presenting is all about your audience

How do you want to make them feel?

After hearing the story, as many great marketers are aware, Liz looked relieved and said:

‘What’s in it for me?’ That’s what the audience wants to know.

The reason this was a relief for Liz, and a relief for me when I was nineteen is this:

It takes the pressure off you to present brilliantly, and to think mainly about the needs and interests of your audience instead.

What would be the opposite of self-consciousness? Consciousness of others? Perhaps lacking self-consciousness is all about thinking about others.

What can you do for your next presentation to consider how you want your audience to feel?

Leadership: The Host with the Most

You're the host with the most, or you're dining alone

You’re the host with the most, or you’re dining alone


Leadership: The Host with the Most

This week I was in a meeting at the headquarters of an international sporting brand, having a conversation with some very inspiring people about leadership. We were talking about a range of questions around leadership, and especially this one:

How do great leaders make others feel?

I was thinking about what an astute observer mentioned when I had spoken about a superstar connector, Ineke. Ineke had introduced herself, and a group of people to one another with enviable grace and warmth. On mentioning this to a consultant friend, she said;

‘The trick is to imagine yourself the host of the party.’

No matter where you are, if you think about making others feel comfortable, and connecting people with one another, you are leading.

What makes a great leader?

In this meeting with a very talented HR professional, and a highly regarded leadership coach, we were talking about what makes great leaders. It was this idea of being a great host (or hostess/’hostess with the mostest’) that resonated with everyone.

The great host/leader:

  • Notices the comfort of others
  • Directs the tone of proceedings
  • Lets everyone know where things are, and when they will happen
  • Is in the present moment

If you thought about yourself as a host, as much as a leader, what would you do differently?

Perception Management

What do you communicate to others that you are not aware of?  Photo courtesy of

What do you communicate to others that you are not aware of? Photo courtesy of

What is perception management?

We sum people up in about three seconds when we first meet somebody. It’s tough. We would all like to be understood for our true selves, but that often takes a lot more time than three seconds.

What do your nonverbals communicate about you?

We ‘broadcast’ a lot of information though:

  • how we hold ourselves
  • the language we choose
  • our tone of voice
  • what we wear

We choose to either ‘norm’ to a group, or define ourselves as being on the edge of a group through what we wear. Sit in the foyer of any large corporation to get a sense of the dress-code for that particular business. Even the counter-culture has its own codes (beards, anyone?)

Where do you stand in relation to the ‘norm’ of your group?

Do you need to amplify, or balance something out?

I once worked with a tall, handsome and fit mortgage broker on his nonverbals. He needed to communicate trustworthiness, warmth and credibility straight away to new clients.

With a large build, and over six feet of commanding height we needed to balance these elements out with warmth so that his stature wasn’t intimidating.

How can you find out how others perceive you?

  1. Ask. Often people I coach have been given feedback repeatedly about certain elements of how they are perceived. If you hear something more than once, it might be worth paying attention.

  2. Seeing is believing. Video yourself. In a recent coaching session, a wonderful, vibrant leader saw herself hunching in the video of her presentation, and said ‘I can’t believe I sit like that!’

  3. If you were to be played by an actor, how would they need to dress, talk and hold themselves to accurately portray you? Again, ask someone you trust.

Once you have some information, you can make choices about how you want to be perceived. If someone says that you appear intimidating, and dress like a mafia boss, it might be time to look around your office and take note of what others are wearing- then get a friend to take you shopping.

Unless you are a mafia boss… then you can be secure in the knowledge that nobody has to stretch their imagination to see you how you want to be seen.

What top 3 nonverbals communicate leadership?

What are the elements that will actually help communicate leadership? Image:

What are the elements that will actually help communicate leadership? Image:

This week I’ve been coaching leaders from an international sports brand. They have deep knowledge and experience in their area. One question that has surfaced is ‘How can we make sure that we are communicating with authority?’

Leaders take up more space

From the great ape to the peacock, when we demonstrate leadership (though we call them dominance cues in the nonverbal world), we take up more space.

Watch people in your next meeting:

  • Who spreads out their belongings across the table?
  • Who has a wide stance?
  • Who drapes their arm over the chair next to theirs?

Leaders move slowly

Think of a movie where the king or queen enters the room.

  • What is their pace?
  • Is is faster or slower than those around them?

Leaders take their time.

This may be a reflection of how our body reacts when we get into a power pose. Our sense of competence rises, with an increase in testosterone, but it’s the reduction of cortisol that is most interesting because it reduces our reactivity to stress.

If we are less reactive to stress, we can make better decisions, and this makes us stand out as leaders.


Leaders’ gestures are larger

A funny thing happens when we experience a stress-response. Our instinct is to protect ourselves. It’s a good instinct to have if we are about to fall over…we can protect our vital organs, and do less damage to ourselves as a result.

Unfortunately, this reaction kicks in when we are presenting in front of groups of people, and it means we restrict our gestures. We also restrict our gestures when we are lying, or do not have full confidence in what we are saying. For most presenters, that means that if we are to look more confident, we need to practise larger gestures to support our content.

Try to get some space around your armpits at some point during your presentation. This will help to remind you to open up your gestures.

See the nonverbals (body language) of leadership in action:

This video contrasts Hilary Clinton and Michelle Obama speaking, with the nonverbals commentated by Joe Navarro.