‘First Impression’ Myth when public speaking

You must have heard this one.
Your first impression is everything and people form their lasting opinion of your presentation in the first 30 seconds’ (or 8 seconds depending on who tells it).
Not true.
This implies that the lasting impression of your presentation won’t be your wisdom, your character, the clarity of your message or the relevance of your information; it all rests on their first impression in the first few seconds.
What pressure! It doesn’t have to be this hard.
This public speaking myth encourages us to focus on superficial things rather than how to engage your audience with your message or compelling idea.

Relax, you have time.

The reality is that you have multiple opportunities to make an impression.
I recall years ago that the first impression of my CEO was that he looked uncomfortable and had a funny voice. My lasting impression of his 10 minute presentation was, ‘Wow, this guy really knows his stuff and this company has a great future’.
The clarity of his message and the certainty he showed throughout the talk far outweighed the poor initial impression.
Your impact is developed and reinforced throughout a talk.
However, if you believe this public speaking myth and don’t start well, you may panic or think ‘it’s too late to win them back’ and lose your composure – which ensures you create a lasting impression as bad as the first!
You don’t need to sabotage yourself just because you have a problem at the beginning. Engage them with the subsequent impressions.

This public speaking myth stacks the cards against you

Look at how this myth stacks the cards against you.
Imagine you are about to stand up in front of an audience to speak and you believe that first impressions are everything. When are nerves the strongest? In the beginning. So what happens if you stumble on a word or trip on a cord or forget part of your intro at the start?
In your mind it’s a disaster because the first 10 seconds have gone poorly and you’re thinking “I can’t recover!” So you tighten up, feel more nervous, think less clearly, forget the next point, and so on…
You believe all is lost and just want to go home, but you have stand up there for another 24 minutes! This sort of thinking stifles natural talent and will make 24 minutes seem like 24 hours.

What to focus on instead?

Do what you can to make a good first impression but don’t let it distract you from the real issues. If you…

  • hone your message for this unique audience,
  • understand the Stress Response and find a way to breathe comfortably,
  • give a great explanation on why your audience should care about your issue and
  • use common sense to ignore most of the myths people pass on…

your overall impression will be maximised.
If you’d like to be a relaxed, persuasive speaker, consider: