Executive Presence for Small Business Owners Today- 3 Pillars
portrait of a businesswoman

Greeting the prospect initiates your meeting is called THE 7 SECOND IMPACT.


It happens every time.

Prepare for the appointment, put on your most professional clothes, and meet the person who recently expressed an interest to buy what you sell. At the moment you greet the prospect, what happens at the handshake and why should you care?

This seemingly insignificant event that initiates your meeting is called THE 7 SECOND IMPACT. Whether you know it or not, it has an enormous effect on the meeting outcome. While there is little disagreement among researchers on the importance of that first impression, have you considered what actually happens?

More important, how to ensure that your impact is positive and persuasive?

In a study co-sponsored by Proctor & Gamble and Harvard Medical School, researchers set out to determine how quickly your prospect will form that critical first impressions. For better or worse, the first impression you form happens in 250 milliseconds; quicker then the blink of eye.

The listener, or the prospect you are about to engage, subconsciously assess you on three dimensions: Competence, likability, and trustworthiness.

What’s at stake in a few seconds that could alter the meeting outcome? The entire sale!

While the first impression is critical to establish the meeting tone, one other consideration in this modern world should not be overlooked.

Our first impressions are profoundly impacted by the visuals. Your dress, posture, and eye contact are key factors by which others quickly form their conclusions about you.

This interaction, and the manner in which others assess you is known as Executive Presence. What is it and how do you develop it?

In the 1970’s, Albert Mehrabian of UCLA did extensive research to understand the order of magnitude of verbal versus nonverbal communication. In his book Silent Messages, he asserted that 55 percent of communication is nonverbal, 38 percent is vocal tone, and only 7 precent are the words you speak.

The judgements others make about you occur at lighting speed. In other words, when you meet someone for the first time, “The body speaks before the mouth opens.” Even though you didn’t say a word, you have communicated.

In fact, my own research suggests that after the initial 250 millisecond impression, people continue to validate those judgements in the next 7 seconds.

Hence, The 7 Second impact is a leading indicator on whether or not you will be perceived positively or negatively. Getting successfully through these first steps is the best way to insure you’ll command their attention for the next several minutes.

Otherwise, if your prospect is disengaged from the start, they’re likely not coming back. Their attention is diverted elsewhere as you have diminished your own capacity.

The need to develop Executive Presence is crucial to anyone running a small business.

Given customers, stakeholders, and employees, you spend a lot of time inspiring, persuading, and proving change necessary to move prospects closer to your cause.

In her book Executive Presence: The Missing Link between Merit and Success, Sylvia Ann Hewlett concludes that image shouldn’t matter. “But, it does…a lot.” While your substance and technical competence is critical, it’s only half of the formula necessary to maximize success.

Hewlett further describes the need to build your personal brand. While you may have spent time on a branding campaign for your company, what have you done to develop your own brand?

As the definition of personal brand is often subject to interpretation, Jeff Bezos of Amazon asserts, “Personal brand is what people say about you when you leave the room.”

What do people say about you? Have you defined your personal brand strategy?

What are the pillars of Executive Presence that will help you form extraordinary impressions every time?

There are three:

  1. Appearance – The Way You Look
  2. Gravitas – The Way You Act
  3. Communication – The way you connect with others and build rapport.

Today’s call to action: It starts with self-reflection and getting to know your inner self. Give thought to the kind of impression you make, and how you can further develop your image to insure first impressions are lasting. If you’re not sure of the impact you make on others at the handshake, just ask a friend or colleague.

Anyone interested in your development is usually forthcoming and will provide candid, constructive feedback if you are willing to reciprocate.

In the world of Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook, we are continually conditioned to put our visual impressions ahead of all other indicators. Developing your Executive Presence and personal brand is  an opportunity to make certain you’re putting your best foot forward and keeping your prospect engaged.

From the 250th millisecond to 30 minutes later, your Executive Presence may just be that missing link between winning or not winning the sale.

Related articles: 

5 Ways to Give a Great Speech

Multicultural Executive Style and Appearance

A Hispanic Business Experiences Transitions


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