“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” –Will Rogers
Charlie Dresow knew when he entered the courtroom that every eyeball would be trained on him.
It was the first day of trial for his client, Max Wade. A child of a well-to-do family who was raised in affluent Marin County outside San Francisco, Wade was accused of a crime spree of epic proportions, including a daring heist of celebrity chef Guy Fieri’s yellow Lamborghini, as well as stealing police uniforms and badges, and attempted murder.
The car theft wasn’t just any car theft. This was the Mission Impossible of car thefts.
The Food Network star’s Lambo was in for service at British Motor Cars, a luxury car dealership in San Francisco. Shortly past midnight, a man dressed in all black rappelled down from the roof of the dealership and into a window. Security camera footage showed the man stalking around the dealership, ninja-style, until he drove off in the Italian sports car.
The attempted murder was equally brazen. A man — also dressed in black — rode up on a motorcycle and opened fire on a girl and her boyfriend as they sat in a truck talking in broad daylight.
And perhaps the craziest part? Wade was under 18 at the time the crimes occurred.
The sensational nature of these crimes meant everything would be riding on Dresow, and that all eyes would be on him when he entered the courtroom that day.
Dresow knew he couldn’t look unsure of himself as he walked in. You need to “just walk in like you know what you’re doing even if you don’t,” he says. Most importantly, he needed to project an air of authority, conviction, and certainty. “You have to have a plan and be confident in what you want to do and do it the way you want to do it.”
He had to look, in other words, like a boss.
Only he had to look like the good kind of boss — more like Tom Hanks’ character in Saving Private Ryan, and less like Alec Baldwin’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross.
Dresow knew, intuitively, the importance of making a strong first impression. “If you don’t take how you appear seriously,” he says, “how can you expect anyone else to take you seriously?”
Why How You Enter a Room Matters
Even if you aren’t a high-profile trial attorney like Charlie Dresow, you are being judged every time you enter a room.
Imagine, for example, you’ve just entered a room full of people you want to impress. It could be a roomful of your peers, or potential clients, or even a bar filled with attractive women.
You’re feeling pretty good — you’re wearing a new shirt and you’ve got your best cologne on that smells like George Clooney in a bottle.
And then one of your buddies pulls you aside and whispers to you that your fly is open.
Ouch. You’ve just experienced the brutal reality of first impressions. They can be good, and they can be really, really bad.
But here’s the thing: leaving your zipper open is just one obvious example of ways we all can ruin a first impression. In reality, there are many things we all do, unintentionally, when we enter a room or gathering of new people that equates to walking into a room with our fly open.
In other words, we’re killing our best chances at success with our own bad habits, mistakes, or simply ignorance. The stakes here are high. First impressions set the tone for entire relationships, whether it’s interviewing for a job, meeting one’s future in-laws for the first time, introducing ourselves to someone we admire, landing a new client, or getting a girl.
But here’s the good news — it doesn’t have to be that way. There are things we can — and should — do to put our best foot forward anytime we enter a room.
Art of Manliness has previously covered how to command a room like a man. Today I’m going to back up a bit and share specific steps you can take to enter any room projecting an air of confidence, self-assurance, and authority, without coming off like Michael Scott walking into a Dunder Mifflin staff meeting.
Below I share 9 specific, easy-to-implement tips culled from experts in psychology, social dynamics, and networking that will show you how to enter any room like a boss.
9 Tips for Projecting Confidence and Authority When You Enter Any Room
Below, I have included 9 easy things you can do to make your entrances convey confidence and authority. I broke them down into two steps — first, what things you should do to prepare to enter a room, and second, what you should do as you are actually making your grand entrance.
How to Prepare to Enter a Room
Being able to enter a room with confidence begins long before you ever cross the threshold of the door. Getting in the right mindset before you get to an event will prepare you to put your best foot forward once you get there. Here’s how.
1. Create a Dressing Ritual
Dresow, the criminal defense attorney, suggests creating a “pregame ritual” to settle your mind and make sure your clothing and appearance are up to snuff. He jokes that he learned a lot from reading about NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders’ pregame clothing ritual. “On the morning of every game he would lay out his uniform on the locker room floor exactly how he intended to wear it, with the pads, jersey, armbands, et cetera, all laid out on the floor,” says Dresow. “On gameday, he would put the pads on in a specific order and that was part of how he’d get into his game mindset.”
The routine had two benefits. First, it ensured Sanders’ equipment was all there and ready to go. By laying out your clothes the night before an interview or an event, you can check to see if your clothes are clean and your dog hasn’t chewed up your only tie. Secondly, Sanders pregame habit gave him greater confidence going into the high-stakes world of a professional football game. The rituals of getting ready for an important meeting — shaving with a safety razor, ironing your clothes, shining your shoes, tying your tie — can similarly work wonders in settling your mind.
Just don’t do the high step as you’re leaving the room.
2. Do Power Poses Before Entering the Room
You probably understand already that positioning our bodies in certain ways can convey nonverbal messages of “power.”
Just picture Macho Man Randy Savage strutting around the ring with his chest puffed out, or a King sitting on a royal throne. (The King Charles kind of King, not the Elvis Presley kind.)
But here’s something you may not know: the act of positioning our bodies in powerful ways not only makes others perceive us as more powerful, it makes us feel more powerful ourselves.
Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy has found that standing tall directly influences our biochemistry. “In all animal species, postures that are expansive, open, and take up more space are associated with high power and dominance,” she says. In a research study she conducted, when participants were asked to strike one of these “power poses,” the results were amazing: after just two minutes in a high power pose, testosterone rose and cortisol (a natural hormone that the body releases in response to stress) decreased. By simply standing in a more dominant way, their bodies’ physiology changed to that of a dominant person.
What does this mean for you? If you can, before you enter a room take two minutes to put yourself in a power pose, with your arms and legs stretched out as far as they can go. This will spike your testosterone and drop your cortisol, making you feel calm, confident, and self-assured.
Unless you want to get some seriously funny looks, you’re better off taking this routine somewhere private. For example, you could duck into a bathroom stall before entering a room. Stretch your arms and legs out, like you’re in the midst of a jumping jack. You will be pleasantly surprised by the feeling of greater power this one small routine will give you.
3. Reset Your Emotional State to Minimize or Mitigate Nervousness
If you’re nervous about entering a room or a new situation, the best thing you can do is to occupy your mind with something that provides an emotional distraction, without sidetracking your problem-solving or logical brain functionality.
Jordan Harbinger, a relationship coach and founder of the Art of Charm podcast, recalls using this approach when he was on the way to meet his girlfriend’s parents for the first time. He called up a good friend who “started telling me a funny story on a completely unrelated topic so I didn’t have time to get nervous on the car ride to their house. I was emotionally distracted.”
Aside from phoning a friend with a good sense of humor, you can also “sing in the car, play a game that doesn’t require too much thinking, or elevate your heart rate” by exercising, says Harbinger. Going for a run or working out can help if you do it a few hours earlier, leaving enough time for a shower, of course. As Harbinger duly notes, “You don’t want to run into a job interview all sweaty.”
4. Know Before You Go
To make sure you are fully prepared, make sure you know all of the details about the event — start time, exact location, dress code, directions to get there, etc.
In other words, don’t show up unprepared, writes How to Work a Room author Susan RoAne. “Whether the event is a trade show, cocktail party, a political fundraiser, a dinner meeting, a conference, or a reunion, be prepared.” Speed walking into an interview late and flustered because you couldn’t find anywhere to park, or sauntering into a party in a t-shirt only to find everyone else in suits will squash your confidence and get the whole proceedings off to a very bad start — to the point where you may find it difficult to recover and get back in the game.
Art of Manliness’ own resident style expert, Antonio Centeno, did an exhaustive job of cataloguing what you should do to make sure you are aware of all the details beforehand — including parking options, dress code, etc. — in “How to Network & Socialize Effectively.”
How to Enter a Room
Once you have prepped yourself for your big arrival, then it’s time to make your actual entrance. Follow these five additional tips as you walk in the room.
1. Have a Firm Sense of Purpose
When you enter a room, you should have a clear sense of purpose. Do not hesitate as you cross the threshold. Entering with a sense of purpose will “not only [make you] appear to be in the know, [but] you will have an opportunity to survey the room,” writes Leanna Cruz.
Dresow, the attorney, echoes this sentiment. “Be polite, but if you have a goal, don’t get sidetracked,” he says. In other words, walk with certainty and conviction. “Go to where you want to be and don’t let anything interfere with you.”
If you don’t know anyone in the room you are about to enter, and don’t have a clear goal or end point, you have a couple of options:
- If it is a social event, you could do research ahead of time to find out if there’s anyone who will be there who you want to meet, as Antonio explains in his guide to networking.
- Another option is to act as if you are a host of the event yourself, greeting others warmly. You will find that other attendees will appreciate your greeting, even if you are not the actual host.
- If you are too shy for that approach, try the old standby — enter the room and make eye contact and smile until you find someone to talk to. “Engaging in eye contact, being in the moment, and having a smile are critical in building rapport,” writes RoAne.
2. Be On Your Game from the Moment You Arrive
Many people mistakenly believe first impressions are made later than they actually are. People will enter a room and be sending nonverbal messages in the way they behave, thinking the first impression they make will come later, when they begin a conversation with a person in the room.
That’s far from the truth. “People are not always aware they are communicating nonverbally,” writes Joe Navarro, a former FBI agent, in What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People. In fact, even if no words are being said, your body language might be revealing your “true thoughts, feelings, and intentions,” while you’re not aware you are doing it, writes Navarro.
First impressions come “as soon as you are a blip on the radar of other people,” says Harbinger. “The key is to be authentic and put your best foot forward at all times. You have to be authentic to everyone in the room, not just who you want to talk to.”
In a social setting, people may form a first impression of a person by observing others’ reactions. In other words, “Group B may look over at Group A and see weird looks coming their way saying you are bad news,” says Harbinger. “It’s an evolved defense mechanism.”
Once you become aware that others are forming a first impression of you the moment they become aware of you — and NOT when you first begin a conversation — then you are more likely to avoid any behaviors that reflect negatively on you.
3. Enter with a Smile
One of the most important nonverbal signals people use to size you up and figure out your intent is your facial expression. “In any situation where you want to be perceived as warm and approachable, the best thing you can do is smile,” says Charlie Houpert, a writer and charisma coach based in Rio de Janiero.
This doesn’t mean you need to have a huge grin on your face the whole time. But it does mean that you should have at least a slight smile on your face to encourage people to interact with you. “When you watch the most charismatic men interact, they often speak through a smile,” says Houpert. “The ‘eye smile’ muscles are activated through entire interactions.”
This tip really resonates with me, as one of the first things that attracted me to my wife was her smile. When we first met, she was a new employee at my work, hunched over a photocopier she was struggling to get to function. Yet she flashed me a smile that radiated a greater sense of confidence and significance than the copier seemed willing to concede.
She hated the job and quit two weeks later, but the smile had already gotten me hooked.
4. Straighten Your Posture as You Enter
Similar to your attire, your posture will influence perceptions and first impressions. “The most common mistake men make is hunched shoulders,” says Houpert. “Eight hours in front of a computer tends to do that.”
To appear confident, straighten up. Houpert recommends testing your posture by holding two pencils in your fists and letting your arms relax at your sides. “With the hunched posture most of us develop, those pencils will probably turn inward,” he says. “This is bad.” To correct your posture, pull back between your shoulder blades and open your chest until the pencils each point straight ahead, Houpert advises. Lift your chin slightly for a final touch as you walk into the room.
5. Gesticulate as You Speak
Houpert says people tend to be anxious when entering a room full of new people, and when that happens, we tend to shrink. “We hunch and if we gesticulate at all, it occurs inside of a little box in front of our chest,” he says. “This limited expression creates a feedback loop that keeps us shy and uncomfortable.”
Instead, try to spread your body out. Use “expansive gesticulations, using the whole length of your arms, not just from the elbows down,” says Houpert. “Taking two seconds to stretch your arms towards either wall is often enough. It reminds you to gesticulate with your full range and makes you a much more dynamic presence.”
Keeping your arms free to gesticulate, rather than in your pockets, will even help you cut down on how often you say “ummmm” as you talk — a speech filler that can make you seem unsure of yourself.
Just remember with all this to keep your gesticulations natural — you don’t want to appear like an octopus having a seizure.
Whether you’re a Hall of Fame football player or a criminal defense attorney entering a courtroom, using these strategies will ensure your entrances are opportunities rather than missteps. “It’s about having a game day ritual. Have a process where you’re shedding your casual skin and get your game face on,” says Dresow. “Draw confidence that your appearance is the absolute best and convince yourself before you enter a room that you are the most persuasive, most well spoken, and you are going to accomplish your goal, whatever that may be.”
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom. I have some power poses to do.
John Corcoran is an attorney and former Clinton White House Writer. When he’s not in a bathroom stall doing power poses, he writes about business relationships and social skills. He has a free, 52+ page guide which you can download, called How to Increase Your Income in 14 Days by Building Relationships with Influencers, Even if You Hate Networking.