Jeff Callahan: Win Friends & Make Amazing First Impressions

This is a guest post by my friend, Jeff Callahan. Jeff is the founder of Become More Compelling, he coaches ambitious overthinkers, supercharging their people skills so that they can build more fulfilling businesses, careers, and social lives.

I have a friend named Josh.

When he talks to you, you feel like the only person in the room. (or Earth)

He is a phenomenal people person.

I went out with him one night, and when we arrived, it was like a magnetic pulse erupted in the room.

People were gravitating toward him.

In four minutes, he’d already circled the room and introduced himself to five new people.

And it got me thinking…

What goes through our mind right before we meet someone new?

“I hope this person likes me.“

“I hope I don’t say something stupid.”

“I hope we have something in common.”

And then what happens in the seconds after we meet the person?

“She seems interesting.”

“He was nice!”

“She was hilarious.

When we meet people, we’re doing what Malcolm Gladwell calls “Thin-slicing”.

We’re trying to squeeze as MUCH knowledge as possible from as little information as possible.

After as little as 1/10th of a second, we make up our minds about other people.

So, what can we do to make great first impressions?

Here are 10 tactics I’ve used over the last 10 years to make 90,000 first impressions. (Yes, I tracked it.)

Use a few of these tactics to immediately improve your first impressions.

Use all 10 tactics to make an incredible first impression that people will remember.

Tactic #1. Be who you want to be.

The self can presumably be anything you want it to be. It can even be new, but that doesn’t make it insincere or inauthentic.

— Amy Cuddy, “Presence”

You can project who you want to be in any situation, and that doesn’t make you inauthentic.

You’re simply adapting to the current situation.

Let’s break this down.

We all have different sides of ourselves based on the situation and how we feel that day.

You probably act differently around your drinking buddies than you do around your grandmother.

Does this mean you’re inauthentic around Granny? Nope, you’re adapting to the situation.

Next time you go out and you know that you’ll be meeting new people, choose who you want to be.

  • Do you want to be charming and outgoing?
  • Do you want to be thoughtful and focused?
  • Do you want to be funny and irreverent?

You’ll discover that if you act differently than usual, an angry mob with torches and pitchforks won’t appear.

People tend to accept what you present.

And you can present what you want.

Tactic #2. Smile

Smiling sounds too obvious–of course we should smile! Duh! Next tactic, please!

Hold on, let’s swan dive into this rabbit hole and uncover the hidden impact of smiling.

Smiling is one of the most effective ways to project warmth and safety to others.

Smiling conveys you’re happy to be in that moment meeting someone new. People also sense that you’re most likely not a threat.

Ever notice when you accidentally smile at strangers, they’ll return your smile?

Research suggests expressions (such as smiling) may have the ability to transfer emotions. When you smile, they smile, and you both feel good.

And if you’re plagued by the dreaded “Resting B*tch Face”, smiling and a quick flash of your eyebrows will solve it and make you seem more approachable instantly:

Tactic #3. Give them the rarest resource on Earth. Attention.

Attention is rare.

The other day my wife and I were at dinner, and we saw a couple a few tables over, both on their phones, ignoring each other and their delicious sushi rolls.

So what should we do instead?

For those few precious seconds when you meet someone and attention matters most, slip your phone in your pocket.

Ignore those vibrations and give that person your full attention. Put them at the center of your world, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

Few people do this, and it will have a huge impact when stacked with the next tactic.

Tactic #4. Eye Contact

Eye contact is like a see-saw.

Too much eye contact and you look like a psycho, too little and you can seem disengaged.

My rule of thumb?

Don’t overthink it.

Make enough eye contact that you can describe the color of their eyes.

Are they blue with a hint of green, or brown on the verge of amber?

If I ask you this, and you stammer and say, “Uh, they were … eye colored,” then you’re not looking long enough.

Tactic #5. Start & end conversations like a pro

Have you ever been at an event, meekly waiting on the edge of the room and fiddling with your phone, while everyone else seems to be having an amazing time?

Doesn’t that suck?

When you’re bold, you make your own luck, you have more fun and you have more chances to connect with people.

See those people?

Walk up to them.

Ask them who they know at the party, how they’re enjoying the conference or how long they’ve worked at the company.

Starting low-stake conversations are great practice.

They’ll help you “warm-up” socially.

Here’s a short video where I break down how to start and end conversations:

Tactic #6. Open Body Language

While what you say is important, what your body is doing can tell a completely different story. Calm, fluid gestures are good for showing you’re socially savvy and probably not a psychopath.

No aggressive pointing or nervous fidgeting.

(If you must fidget, rub your toes together. Olivia Fox Cabane recommends this as a way to increase your presence because it forces you to connect with your entire body.

Jeff Callahan

Don’t be afraid to take up space.

Most people subconsciously use collapsed body language that communicates, “I’m small! Don’t pay attention to me!”.

It’s okay to be big!

Use open body language, such as relaxed arms at your sides, a slight smile and upright posture.

Tactic #7. Discover connections.

People love discovering they have something in common with others. This shows they belong to the same tribe.

Sometimes, those connections are obvious (same company, same alma mater or same conference). Sometimes, they’re teased out through conversation.

If two people start talking about “Game of Thrones,” then it’s game over.

They’re best friends.

If you uncover something in common, call it out!

People like people who are like them.

The more shared connections you have with someone, the more likely you’ll hit it off.

Tactic #8. Authentic Deep Compliments

Authentic compliments are one of the best ways to spark a conversation, project warmth and build a connection.

Think about the last time someone authentically complimented you on something.

How did it make you feel?

Anyone can give a surface-level compliment like “Nice watch!”

“Deep compliments are 100x more effective than “surface compliments”.

Example: you just met Anne at a party.

She told you how she worked 60 hours this week on a huge project so she’s glad to be out of the office.

You say: “Wow, you must be really dedicated and driven to work that many hours!”

You’re complimenting Anne on who she is.

That’s powerful.

When you make others feel good about who they are, they’ll like you.

Tactic #9. Crack them up.

Humor is one of the most important people skills you can possibly build. When you laugh, it lights up your brain’s reward center.

To others, humor displays a few subtle things at once.

It shows you don’t take the world too seriously, you’re a fun person to hang out with and you’re socially aware.

It may also make people addicted to you.

Humor stimulates the same part of the brain targeted by addictive drugs.

When you meet someone new, offer up a lighthearted quip. This will break the tension and form a connection.

The best way to up your humor game? Watch stand-up comedy. Iliza Shlesinger and Hannibal Buress are excellent places to start.

Tactic #10. The Soft Invite.

You’re talking to a cool person. The kind of person you’d love to be friends with. But how do you know they’d like to hang out with you?

Last time I checked, no one wants to be rejected.

On a recent podcast episode, my guest Rob Riker shared a great strategy for testing the friendship waters before diving in.

Enter the “Soft Invite”

If you’re talking to someone about a shared interest or activity, you can float the idea of doing the activity together.

Jeff: “We should totally go hiking sometime!”

Rob: “Absolutely! I know this trail outside the city we could try.”

Jeff: “Great! Let’s set a time!”

After you float the soft invite, gauge their reaction.

  • Are they excited?
  • Are they lukewarm?

If they seem excited about the suggested activity, swap numbers immediately.

If possible, set a time right then!

Using these tactics, you’ll start making amazing first impressions in no time.

Next Step: A gift for Get The Friends You Want community:

Download my free audio guide on effortlessly joining group conversations.

In the audio guide, I’ll show you:

  • The +10% Rule: How To Always Be Accepted Into A Group And Never Accidentally Kill The Vibe​
  • A Visual Guide: Body Language While Joining A Group
  • How To Get Out Of Your Head And Stay Present In Group Conversations

Download the audio guide here.

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