First impressions … do your numbers add up?

This is the fourth post in our guest blogger series, written by Deborah Ogden, a nationally respected speaker on Positive Impact and Presence. 

Warren Buffett, the American business magnate and philanthropist once said: ‘It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.  If you think about that you’ll do things differently’.  Wise words; and it all starts with a first impression.

The scientists can’t agree on just how many seconds it is, but in an instant someone has made a decision about you.  In a blink of an eye we decide if someone is ‘friend’ or ‘foe’.  This is a primal instinct – for our pre-historic ancestors it would be the difference between life and death – today, in a business environment it’s your reputation and future relationships at stake.  We talk about judging books by covers, but it goes much deeper.  Visual impact may be the first of the senses to kick in, rapidly followed by sound, smell and kinaesthetic, that is touch and how someone makes us feel.  These are all ‘clues’ being assessed by our subconscious resulting in a ‘gut’ feeling of ‘yay – I want to get to know this person and find out more’ or ‘o-oh, I’m getting out of here …!’

In a business context perhaps more worrying is the statistic that it can take a further eight interactions to correct a wrong impression – how many times do we get the opportunity for a second go, never mind an eighth!  We all like to be ‘right’ and as a result our brains send out feelers looking for clues to back up our first impression – whatever that may have been – good or bad.  All the more reason to get it right first time.

So what exactly are we assessing about someone in that first impression?  Recent research by Harvard Psychologist Amy Cuddy has concluded we are deciding two things: can I trust this person; and do I respect them?  Psychologists translate these into the traits of warmth and competence.  The research went on to show that in a business capacity most people would assume competence to be of the most important here – we all want to be seen as good at our job – but actually trust, or warmth needs to be established first.  Whilst competence is important, without trust, it can appear manipulative and off-putting.

This research backs up the often quoted principle, ‘people buy people’.  Faced with a candidate who is technically 100% excellent but a little ‘awkward’; or a bright spark who may score 80% on expertise but fits the dynamic of the office, who would you choose? 

When people ask me about my work, helping people clarify and communicate their own personal brand, this is exactly what I am talking about.  It’s about being ‘so good they can’t ignore you’, whatever the context: networking; presenting; a pitch or promotion.  We all have a personal brand – Jeff Bezos of Amazon is often quoted as saying ‘it’s what people say about you when you’re not in the room’; therefore, the crucial point is to ensure you are managing yours and not leaving it to chance. And that all starts with a first impression …… .

Whether it’s building better relationships, winning more contracts or presenting with confidence, Deborah’s expertise has delivered results time after time for businesses and individuals across the UK.

So for more info and advice on managing your own personal brand visit DO Positive Impact, or contact Deborah at


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