Thursday, October 29, 2009

First Impressions In the Speech Driven Life

Today I post a page out of my book-in-the-works, The Speech Driven Life. I began the book to help equip students to speak the Truth with sincerity, skill and grace. While it is intended to prepare students for competitive public speaking, I think it's practical enough to be of benefit to every ambassador for Christ.

How to Make a Positive First Impression

It has been said that within ten seconds after entering a room most people will make a snap judgment about the social environment. In short order they’ll decide whether or not the people there are friendly. It’s called a first impression. Likewise, when you walk into a room you’ll be sized up in a matter of moments. People will notice your clothing, your hair style, the expression on your face, your posture, and your body movements.

When you speak, people will notice the quality of your voice. They will notice your pitch, your tone, your rate, your accent (if you have one), and your enunciation. They will make judgments about your emotional state based on your tone and style of delivery. Lastly, perhaps, they will notice what you have to say, which they will interpret by the first impression they have already made of you.

As a speaker you are essentially performing for an audience of judges. This is literally true if you are involved in formal speech competition. The more intentional you are about making a positive first impression, the easier it will be to establish the trust and credibility it takes to effectively communicate your message.

Here are some essential components for making a good first impression. These tips apply to the professional looking attire you would wear in speech competition, and they are good to consider for personal appearance in general.

1. Smile

Your face is your most important means for making a positive first impression. Wear a smile that can be seen in your eyes. It communicates friendliness and confidence. A grumpy disposition is a poor representation of a faith that brings joy. Avoid chewing gum or eating when you speak. Check to make sure you don’t have parsley stuck in your teeth or food smeared on your face. It’s distracting.

2. Dress to Feature Your Face and Hands

Wear clothing that directs people’s attention to your face. Dark suits allow your face to stand out in contrast. Include attractive colors in your attire (shirts, neck ties, scarves) to add warmth and personality. Dress modestly. Avoid clothing that directs undue attention to parts of your body other than your face. Avoid wearing colors and patterns that clash. Wear a hairstyle that keeps your hair out of your face and makes you look respectable. Keep jewelry to a minimum so that your eyes are the main focus. Temperatures permitting, wear long sleeves so that your hands stand out in contrast to your clothing and are easy to see.

3. Use Good Posture and Natural Movements

Good posture and smooth hand movements also help make a positive first impression. Take deliberate steps when entering a room. Let your hands swing naturally at your sides when you walk. Keep your hands visible and out of your pockets. Don’t slouch or look off balance. Let the impression you make show that you enjoy being with the people there, and that you look forward to communicating with them.

4. Sound Confident and Personable

The first words you speak will make an impression. Speak them loudly and clearly, in a calm, controlled voice. High-pitched, rapid speech indicates nervousness. Try to make your voice sound confident and friendly, generally in the lower part of your vocal pitch range. A greeting or welcome is a good way to be personable with your audience and put them at ease.

5. State a Clear Purpose and Preview Your Points

Let your audience know why you are speaking to them. State your topic clearly and give a preview of your main points. Hint at your conclusion to keep them tracking with you.

6. Have a Strong Beginning and Ending

Audiences tend to remember the beginning and end of a presentation the most. Make your opening and closing strong and memorable.

7. Keep Things Short, Sweet and Simple

Be enthusiastic. Be sincere. Be brief. People will appreciate it. Show gratitude to your audience for their attention.