When he walked into the room, every head turned…
There was something about him.
Yes, he looked good. Fit, healthy, full of energy. Nice clothes. Well-groomed. But even all these details were merely on the nice side of normal.
It wasn’t just his appearance. It was something else.
A quiet confidence. A self-assuredness. A quiet swagger that said, “Yes, I’m here, and you’re free to notice me — but I’m not going to demand your attention.”
Nothing about him drew attention for being loud.
There was something else.
An X-factor that made him magnetic…
Would you like to make this kind of first impression?
Would you like people to smile and be naturally attracted to you (in a friendly and professional way) when you meet them or merely enter the room?
Would you like to know that your first impressions will be memorable?
Last week I talked to a client on video chat for the second time — and the first time in months.
This is someone whose name is famous in my industry. Who is respected around the world as a media personality and thought leader.
We were the first two to show up for the meeting.
And immediately he smiled and commented on my presence. In part, it was because I was standing at my desk — and he could tell by my posture.
But standing alone wouldn’t have gotten the same reaction. It was everything about how I was showing up, as represented by the standing, that made him instantly light up when he saw me.
And while I’ll acknowledge this was the second impression, the exact same principles applied to our first interaction, and most first interactions I have today.
How do you get people to light up when they see you for the first time?
Baseline: Work to be the best version of yourself…
The impression that you make on others will start with the impression you have of yourself.
If you believe you’re terrible in whatever way — shy, insecure, unworthy, and so on — you will not make a great first impression.
And no, narcissism isn’t the answer, either. Narcissism is disliked because it comes across as a shiny coat of paint on a all those same ugly insecurities. Just think of any narcissist you know — do you really think they act that way because they love themselves? (The answer is no.)
The answer comes from quiet confidence.
The answer comes from loving yourself first.
And the best way to start loving yourself and building quiet confidence is to work every day to be the best version of yourself.
This means taking care of yourself. Mentally, physically, spiritually. It means doing your best work, whenever you show up. It means being a good person, and being kind to others.
The more you work to be the best version of you — and get those results — the better you’ll feel about yourself. You’ll grow confident in a way that’s based in self-love (and that is clearly NOT cocky arrogance).
This is simple, but not necessarily easy.
It may involve therapy. It may involve getting a coach or accountability partner. It will definitely involve confronting your shame, insecurities, and vulnerability head-on. It will take work.
It’s a lifetime journey.
But as long as you’re on that journey, you’ll see results quickly.
As you start to grow confident, then you need to learn how to fit in various situations…
Among people who study evolutionary psychology and mating behaviors, there’s a concept called “signaling.”
This is where an animal does something to signal — to a potential mate, to a competitor, to a predator — certain status in a situation.
A lion may roar. A bird may do a dance. A gorilla may beat its chest.
There are millions of behaviors in nature that represent signaling — nonverbal communication of status.
Although human signaling is far more intricate and can include everything from the language you use to external signals such as clothes or material possessions, it’s pretty much the same thing.
When you can signal that you are a fit for and confident in a situation, you will be accepted.
This happens all the time.
But for a dramatic example, think back to high school. When you got to high school (and frankly, long before that), you realized that certain groups looked and acted in certain ways. If you wanted to be a jock, you probably dressed in jock clothes and did jock activities like participating in school sports. Likewise with band, drama, nerds, and even outcasts.
Just think of the punk rockers who appear to be putting on a punk outfit to show their outcast status. But all it takes is one look at how all punks dress pretty much the same to realize that it’s less about standing out than fitting in with yet another crowd.
If you want to fit into any situation, you have to learn the signals…
Fashion is definitely a big one.
I can mostly speak for men, from my own personal experience here (women are often much better at this than men, whether through intuition or cultural training).
I still remember my first day at my last job. I knew the people kind of well, because I’d done some freelance work for them for a couple months before moving across the country and starting work in-office.
I showed up the first day in pleated slacks, a button-up shirt, and a tie.
I knew the workplace was more casual than this. But I wanted to look nice on my first day.
What I didn’t realize though was that I’d failed by sending the wrong signals. I overdressed, and that made me an outcast. (Not only that, my fashion choices were just bad — which I’ve since learned.)
Thankfully I already had enough of a good reputation that they kept me around. But it didn’t stop them from making lighthearted jokes at my expense the first day.
I frequently see this same mistake repeated at industry conferences.
It’s the mark of man who doesn’t know how to look good to show up in pleated pants, a tent-cut button-up shirt, and a tie. Often with at least of one of those items being overtly “loud” in color scheme or print.
This may have been a signal that “I am professional” a couple decades ago.
Today it’s a failed signal because it’s saying, “I’m trying to look professional but I don’t know how.”
At the very least, if you want to look professional today, burn your pleated pants and get something with a flat front, that fits you well. Likewise, chose an entire outfit that fits you well — even if it takes going to a tailor to make that happen.
Then, depending on the context, signaling can either involve dressing down in well-fit clothes (jeans and a t-shirt are professional in some contexts) or dressing up (a custom or tailored suit).
Likewise, in most social circles, accessories (including your smartphone) are signals.
In a certain context, Gucci, Rolex, and only the latest model of iPhone are baseline signals.
In other contexts, these are ridiculous overkill and failed signals showing you’re attempting to display status you don’t have.
The key is to understand the signals required for the context — and make a conscious decision about how you use them…
You can also counter-signal to convey another level of status…
This is akin to the idea of takeaway selling — where instead of chasing prospects, you pull away and let them chase you.
Counter-signaling is what you do when you know the signals required for a context, and you choose to reject them.
For example, I don’t want to wear a suit.
I go places where people dress up in suits. And I’ll wear slacks and a nice t-shirt, or perhaps an untucked button-up shirt (chosen for the cut so this doesn’t just look sloppy).
I will very occasionally choose a blazer, but purposefully not a matching suit jacket.
These choices signal that I understand this is a context to look nice. And yes, I look nice. But I’m playing by my rules, not theirs.
For people who are caught up in the game of signaling 100%, this creates a disconnect between me and them. For those who think I can only be professional by showing up in a suit, they don’t see me as professional.
But for the people I like to be around — smart people who recognize that signaling is important but not everything, the counter-signaling shows a willingness to flaunt convention and think for myself.
This casual comfort and confidence sends its own kind of signal. That yes, I know the game, but I’m happy not playing by its rules.
It also is a complete 180 from the failed signaling of trying to look the part but not being comfortable doing so.
I often find myself in a room full of people who are trying to impress and looking worse off for it. While I dress specifically to NOT impress and in doing so amplify my look of confidence among the crowd.
They’re desperate. I’m not. Not being desperate is attractive.
The key is understanding how to own your signals in every situation…
You can only do this when you are confident in yourself.
When you love yourself for who you are.
When you’ve fully accepted yourself.
And then when you understand the contexts you move through, and the different signals used to convey status in those situations.
The first time I went to AWAI’s Bootcamp and Job Fair, I also displayed failed signaling by overdressing.
I tried too hard to make that good first impression.
Meanwhile, I realized some of the copywriters I respected most looked more casual than 95% of the attendees. And they were magnetic.
(Notably, Mark Ford is dressed to the nines and sends a completely different set of signals that garners respect. I’m not knocking him, just saying that it’s not me to try to copy his or similar signals and so I won’t do it.)
So in future years, I showed up much more casually. And while there are more factors than this, the impressions I made on others in those subsequent years were much better (and more profitable) than that first year, trying to look like someone I’m not.
Learn to love yourself first.
Then learn the signals that will make you fit (or not fit) in any given situation.
Then make the choices you want to make, because you want to make them.
If you do make choices that counter-signal, you may find some people reject you out of their own personal desire to fit in with all the standard signals. Often that’s out of jealousy.
But for most people you want to impress in most situations, their first impression will be to recognize and admire your confidence.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
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