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How to Make a Favorable First Impression

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!

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  • Guest

    While I did enjoy the article, there is a small correction required: Middleton is the Duchess of Cambridge’s maiden name. Since her marriage, as a titled royal she doesn’t have a surname, but Mountbatten-Windsor can be used if you really want.

  • Guest

    While I did enjoy the article, there is a small correction required: Middleton is the Duchess of Cambridge’s maiden name. Since her marriage, as a titled royal she doesn’t have a surname, but Mountbatten-Windsor can be used if you really want.

  • Greta, thanks for synthesizing a complex topic into four digestable points.

    Of those four points presented, I find practice to be by far, the most important.  Because the more you practice, the less mental energy you’ll need to dedicated to remembering your content, and what to say.

    Since you don’t have to think about it so much, you WILL be more relaxed, and you’ll have more mental energy available to invest in relating to the audience, and you’ll be cognizant of the clock.

    So, whomever said “Practice makes  perfect” sure know what they were talking about!

    Thanks again, Greta.

    Jim Watson
    Portland, Maine

  • Greta, thanks for synthesizing a complex topic into four digestable points.

    Of those four points presented, I find practice to be by far, the most important.  Because the more you practice, the less mental energy you’ll need to dedicated to remembering your content, and what to say.

    Since you don’t have to think about it so much, you WILL be more relaxed, and you’ll have more mental energy available to invest in relating to the audience, and you’ll be cognizant of the clock.

    So, whomever said “Practice makes  perfect” sure know what they were talking about!

    Thanks again, Greta.

    Jim Watson
    Portland, Maine

  • Carrie

    I agree with everything above, except that she really did look at her notecards for too long and perhaps too often, which seem to be located too far below her eye level.

  • Carrie

    I agree with everything above, except that she really did look at her notecards for too long and perhaps too often, which seem to be located too far below her eye level.

  • You’re right, she manages to connect in a way that her step-mother-in-law does not. I think she’s at the stage where her natural charisma predisposes the audience to being impressed. In time she’ll need to make another more real connection to audiences in the way her mother-in-law did. Her father-in-law is a good case in point where he did very well when he was younger but as he grew, his message changed and he lost some of the connection with his audience. Being authentic will help her.

  • You’re right, she manages to connect in a way that her step-mother-in-law does not. I think she’s at the stage where her natural charisma predisposes the audience to being impressed. In time she’ll need to make another more real connection to audiences in the way her mother-in-law did. Her father-in-law is a good case in point where he did very well when he was younger but as he grew, his message changed and he lost some of the connection with his audience. Being authentic will help her.

  • Great pointers! Enjoyed the article

    I remember the first talk I did a while back in front of a few college students about marketing and branding. I thought I did well and when ending my talk I told the audience to approach me if they had questions or needed a list of reference materials. One very bold student came up to me and said… “you really like the word ‘basically’ don’t you?” Imagine my horror when my friend confirmed it (they even counted how many times!). I certainly leaned a lot then. Cheers from Rachel @ webtemplates.com.au

  • Great pointers! Enjoyed the article

    I remember the first talk I did a while back in front of a few college students about marketing and branding. I thought I did well and when ending my talk I told the audience to approach me if they had questions or needed a list of reference materials. One very bold student came up to me and said… “you really like the word ‘basically’ don’t you?” Imagine my horror when my friend confirmed it (they even counted how many times!). I certainly leaned a lot then. Cheers from Rachel @ webtemplates.com.au

  • GPH

    I agree with the article, especially about not being too prepared, and even more critical is being authentic which in my humble opinion was not accomplished by Kate.

  • GPH

    I agree with the article, especially about not being too prepared, and even more critical is being authentic which in my humble opinion was not accomplished by Kate.

  • Petr Dvořák

    Hallo. Thanks for the article. Now what about the speech? The content of the speech was okay – nothing extraordinary, probably the kind of epideictic speech that is expected on occasions like this. The brevity of it was surely a good thing. But the delivery was a failure. Kate has excellent assets – she is a celebrity, which means people will listen to her, and physically atractive, which favors positive first reactions. But she did not speak properly, it was really awkward as she stumbled across sentences and franticly looked up and down and around. She should really start training some basic oratory… It seems it is three years old video, so I wonder whether she got any better.

  • Petr Dvořák

    Hallo. Thanks for the article. Now what about the speech? The content of the speech was okay – nothing extraordinary, probably the kind of epideictic speech that is expected on occasions like this. The brevity of it was surely a good thing. But the delivery was a failure. Kate has excellent assets – she is a celebrity, which means people will listen to her, and physically atractive, which favors positive first reactions. But she did not speak properly, it was really awkward as she stumbled across sentences and franticly looked up and down and around. She should really start training some basic oratory… It seems it is three years old video, so I wonder whether she got any better.

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