How to make a good first impression? How important are the first seconds for public speakers?

How to make a good first impression? How important are the first seconds for public speakers?

From an evolutionary point of view, having opinions, beliefs, common patterns of action or assessments has its justification. Mechanical behaviour has both negative consequences and also positive ones. First, they shorten the time for making decisions that can be an energy-consuming activity. It would be hard for us to function if we had to wonder every morning whether we should stop at a red light, whether we could touch a hot pot, or whether walking along a dark street at night, it is worth making new friends with a person carrying a knife. Secondly, we save our mental resources for something bigger, e.g. creative work or problem solving. Thirdly, in most cases it is an effective strategy of action. Operation on autopilot, unfortunately, also has its dark side, because it increases the chance of making a mistake. What’s more, it can cause non-reflective action and respond to only one stimulus or feature. On a global scale, this carries a lot of socially undesirable behaviour. Stereotypes destroy relationships, build walls and do not allow you to meet someone with empathy, cordiality and curiosity. These aspects are also relevant in the context of public speaking. A conscious performer knowing these principles can build effective strategies for self-presentation and building a personal brand, as well as realize that not everything depends only on his performance, and therefore reduce some stage fright.

What should the speaker know? What attribution errors can listeners make in a public speech?

First impression importance in public speaking

The first impression effect is probably one of the best known effects in psychology. It consists in the fact that an opinion and perception about us can last for a long time. If we start our performance badly, it can cascade into other elements and the whole perception.

Halo effect in public speaking

Imagine a situation when someone in a well-tailored suit enters the stage, elegant, with an expensive watch and an impeccable hairstyle. The audience, assessing him as a professional by appearance and signs that he is doing well professionally (designer and expensive clothing), can attribute several other positive features to him. The opposite is the Pygmalion effect, which works in the opposite way – here, negative traits are extended to man’s whole character. For clothing, this can also be linked to the next item.

Aesthetic Stereotype Transfer during presentation

What does this mean in practice? Handsome and pretty people often get higher marks at the start because this feature will cause them to be rated higher. Not everyone is born with the appearance of a model, but even if we are not walking beauty, taking care of ourselves, as well as choosing the right colors and cuts for our figure, can do a lot. This is another example that shows how important the right outfit is.


The listeners’ convictions and rigid rules can mean that we can be assessed worse in advance regardless of our competencies. If someone is convinced that women should not perform on stage and make a career, just sit at home with a child, or are too old or too young to talk about a topic, then a female speaker is automatically in a worse position. Everyone’s dogmas are deeply rooted and are not so easy to change. As speakers, we can do little with them.

How much can mistakes cost us? The Horn effect

The Horn effect shows what can cause our mistakes on the stage. Our weaknesses, which will be noticed, may also influence the assessment of listeners in other areas. If our presentation is careless, unformatted text can be perceived as sloppy. When there are other mistakes, e.g., lack of natural body language or ability to create interesting speeches, we can be assessed worse according to other criteria.

Labelling Error in public speaking

Labeling people is interpreting individual behaviors, e.g., a joke made during a presentation, as a permanent feature of a sense of humor and socializing. This may refer to other aspects, e.g., when we are late for our lecture, we may be seen as irresponsible and late. Labels can stick to us for a long time.

From time to time, we all judge incorrectly. Knowing how our psyche works and what effects can appear, it is worth considering what personal brand we want to present and how to make a good first impression, which is not so easy to change later. Our credibility and authenticity will definitely improve in the eyes of the audience if we think carefully about the strategy. The basis here is to think over the beginning of the performance or presentation, as well as the outfit. In addition, proper preparation and certainty of what we want to say at the beginning can also be an effective strategy. You can learn it by heart and rehearse it many times in front of a mirror or housemates, so you will feel more confident when you enter the stage.

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