The Art and Science of Presenting – Episode 12


First bump between colleagues at work

How long do you really have before you make that all important first impression? Is it 5 seconds, 10 seconds or perhaps a little longer?  Researchers at Princeton University believe that it takes only one tenth of a second for someone to judge us as soon as they see our face.

That may be difficult for some people to believe but think about the last time you were introduced to a stranger – didn’t you get a feeling about them in an instant? It’s largely an unconscious process but the reality is we are all hard wired to do it.

Do they look like a person I can trust? 

Are they intelligent? 

Are they important? 

Are they competent?

We are conditioned by experience to make instant yet very complex computations on a person’s status before they even utter a single word.

Public speakers and presenters face the daunting and exceptionally difficult challenge of making that crucial first impression count if they are to influence and persuade their audience in the way they need to. Given the fact that some form of judgement has already been made before they open their mouth to speak, everything they do moments before count too.

Imagine your audience has arrived to find you fiddling with cables, flicking through slides or pacing up and down waiting for them to be seated. Whatever you are doing the moment they walk into the room contributes greatly to your first impression.

Be prepared

Always get there at least an hour early to do all of your fiddling, flicking and pacing before anyone arrives. By the time your first audience member arrives you should be completely free of all technical and preparatory distractions to meet and greet them with a firm handshake and confident smile.


If it’s within your gift to do so make it your business to meet as many people as you possibly can and exchange a few words before you take to the platform to speak.

Slow and silent

That’s how you should start. Walk up slowly but purposefully with a straight posture and shoulders back. Pause for a few brief moments and smile before you say a word.

Image is everything

Dressing smartly shouts out success and instils confidence so make sure you look your very best. That includes your shoes too.

Drop the name

Don’t start with ‘My name is John Smith and I’m the head of technology’. They really don’t care.

Make them curious

The first impression you need to make is that you have something really important to say that will make a difference to their lives. You won’t achieve that by telling them how many offices you have and how wonderful you are. Try this instead:

– Tell them a true, relevant and powerful story

– Make them feel something, surprised, shocked, happy concerned, etc.

– Ask them a question. One of my personal favourite TED talks by Simon Sinek opens with the question, “How do you explain when things don’t go as we assumed? Or better, how do you explain when others are able to achieve things that seem to defy all of the assumptions?”

– Help them to imagine something, the future perhaps.

Be at ease

If you are relaxed and comfortable up on your feet then your audience can sit back in the comfort and knowledge that they are in safe hands. Before you take to the stage to present take a few moments to breathe deeply, meditate or practice self-hypnosis.

Be an 8 of clubs

The key to a good presentation is confidence.

Imagine holding in your hands a pack of playing cards with the royalty removed. Each number represents a level of confidence so if you’re holding an ace, that’s the equivalent of a one which means you have the lowest confidence. A 10 however means you have the highest level.

Practice being an 8. We all know what an 8 looks and feels like in terms of a level of confidence so practice being an 8 and carry one with you when you next present.

The reason the old saying ‘ You only get one chance to make a first impression’ has been around for so long is because its true so use these tips to make yours a good one the next time you speak.

I really hope you enjoyed this post. If you did, please feel free to share it through your preferred social media channels below and subscribe to our mailing list so you won’t miss any future posts.

If this article has inspired you to learn a little more about how effective your presentation skills are you may want to take a look at our presentation training and presentation coaching pages to see how we may be able to help you. You will also find a great deal of really helpful ‘free’ information in our Learning Centre.

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