How to make a favorable first impression

Written by

Greta Stahl

Kate Middleton received a lot of press attention this week for delivering her first public speech as the Duchess of Cambridge. In her three-minute address at the Treehouse, a hospice run by East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices, she tried to connect with her audience and make a favorable first impression.

The Duchess faced a challenge familiar to many newly promoted business leaders, elected officials and public figures: with so much riding on first impressions, what can you do to win the favor of your audience?

Here are some tips to help those stepping into the spotlight shine.

Practice – Audiences can tell when you’re unprepared. Practicing will help you feel confident and comfortable when you have to step up in front of a room full of people for the first time. When President Barack Obama practiced for the presidential debates in 2008, his team built an entire mock stage to replicate the exact conditions of his speech and figure out what he needed to do better. That might be a bit extreme for the average speaker; instead, ask someone whose opinion you trust to watch you rehearse and give honest feedback. Or, as a complement to a practice audience, record yourself practicing and then watch the video to see what works and what doesn’t.

Relax – It’s important to prepare, but it’s just as critical to stop worrying about perfection. When a speaker becomes too focused on getting each word precisely right, they get nervous and stiff during their presentation. Audiences would much rather hear from an authentic speaker than a perfect one.

Relate – Your audience came to see you speak, not to see your slides. Make it worth their time by remembering to be relatable. Weave in a story, tell a joke, or remark on a personal anecdote to make your presentation more compelling and keep your audience engaged. Tim Cook did this well in his first product launch as CEO of Apple. He began his presentation by making a joke about the audience’s keen awareness of the change in Apple leadership. By lightening the mood, he helped the whole room relax and focus on the launch.

Restrain – One thing that Kate Middleton did well was to give a speech exactly the length it needed to be. Too many speakers overload their presentations with unnecessary facts and content to try and make a powerful impression. But most audiences aren’t looking for lots of detail and they’re not hoping you make your presentation longer. They’re looking for a compelling story. Include exactly as much content as you need to get your idea across and not a word more.

The Duchess of Cambridge has a huge platform. When she speaks, the worldwide media pays attention. That can create a tremendous amount of pressure and it puts a premium on practicing and finding ways to relax. She did a nice job with her first public speech and we can’t wait to see what she does in the future!