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It’s a cliche that rings true — you don’t get a second chance to make that good first impression. It’s important to get it right — after all, it’s over within seven to 30 seconds of meeting someone. Yet its effects are long-lasting — it can make or break a new relationship. Even more challenging is the fact that most of it is made with your body language before you even open your mouth.

Linda Clemons, CEO of Sisterpreneur, Inc., an organization designed to empower women entrepreneurs, is one of the most respected body language experts in the world. She says body language is ingrained; it’s a primitive language we all know.  

“The reason why body language matters is it is our first language, it’s our primitive language before we can even speak a word,” she tells Odyssey, saying body language was spoken by the earliest humans:  “We only made sounds and gestures once…before we even formed words.”

Today, that language is still in use. Make a statement with your body, make it be heard, she says. “It makes a big deal if you walk into a room and you are not winning; if you walk into a room and automatically think, I know they’re going to look at my skin color; I know they’re gonna have these assumptions.” 

She says it’s almost as if your defenses are already raised if you make assumptions. “You’re going to go in there almost with a chip on your shoulder.” Instead, own it. Go in to any meeting, whether it be a job interview or a meeting with board members. “I’m the missing piece — my color just happens to be rich,” Clemons says. “When you do that your head is held up high; your shoulders are back; you are walking like you’re in control.”

Follow these body language tips to make a first impression really count:

  1. Stand tall. You begin making an impression the instant you walk into a room. Good posture suggests you are confident and a person who should be taken seriously. Stand straight, but not rigid, pull in your tummy, and relax your shoulders. Keep your arms at your side since crossed arms could be seen as closing yourself off from arguments, or that you’re feeling insecure.
  2. Make your handshake count. People judge a lot by a handshake, and a limp-noodle handshake is taken as a sign you’re insecure, nervous, lack ability, or just don’t care. We’re not suggesting a bone-crushing power grip, but a firm shake that lasts about two seconds.
  3. Smile and nod. A genuine smile combined with appropriate nods shows you are listening, and even agreeing, with the opinions being expressed.
  4. Make eye contact. While making eye contact is important, don’t focus so intently that the other person feels like they’re being stared down — that’s intimidating. Instead, after looking at their eyes for a couple of seconds, just look them in the face to make sure you appear to be interested in the conversation.
  5. Lean in. Leaning in toward a person shows that you’re focused on them and are truly interested.