You’ve heard the old saying that you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, so you know first impressions are important, and durable.  You may have heard that people make up their minds about each other within thirty seconds of meeting, or on some other equally flimsy basis.  So you know that first impressions are formed quickly.

What you may not realize is that those durable first impressions are formed even more rapidly than we thought, according to the most recent research.  A study by a psychologist out of the University of Glasgow, Scotland, found that people develop widely-shared, widely similar impressions of you in less than a second.

That’s roughly the time it takes to say “hello.”  By the time the second syllable is out of your mouth, everyone in the room has settled on what sort of person you are, they agree on the assessment, and it’s a fairly broad one, like “trustworthy,” or “confident,” or “aggressive,” or “dominant,” or “warm.”

That’s amazing and it suggests that it’s not your witty repartee or your insights into the current political situation that are helping to form this opinion.  It’s your non-verbal signals and your tone of voice.

The study focused on tone of voice and found that widespread agreement on 64 people recorded saying “hello.”  In fact, out of 320 participants, apparently just about everyone agreed on one male “hello” in particular.  He was rated overwhelmingly untrustworthy.


We’d all give a good deal not to have that voice, right?

So what were the characteristics of that voice?  Here, sadly, it all gets a little more complicated.  But apparently, if your voice is rising at the end, like, “Hello?” then you’re deemed less trustworthy.  Especially if you’re a woman.  If your voice is too growly, if you’re a male, then you rate lower on the trustworthy scale too.  So don’t channel your inner James Earl Jones if you’re trying to connect with people at that level.  Instead, you might think Tom Cruise, whose voice is a little higher.

But what’s particularly interesting is that it’s not just trustworthiness that people agreed on – the participants essentially agreed on all the characteristics.

We form remarkably consistent impressions of people with extraordinary speed.

What can you do about it?  Here’s a little trick.  Just before you say hello, take a quick, deep breath.  From the belly.  I’ve blogged before on the importance of belly breathing for good speaking and other things, but here it helps with that vital little word, “hello.”

That will increase the resonance of your voice, its musicality, which will help your rating on a number of levels and for a number of traits including trust, confidence, warm, and dominance.

Avoid the trap of saying hello with a rising pitch at the end, as if it were a question.  That will undercut your trust and confidence ratings.  And while you’re at it, if you’re willing to do the work, avoid two other traps that are particularly common in the business world these days:  the vocal growl, what some people call “vocal fry,” and the vocal swallow, where the sound of your voice comes from the back of the throat.

I don’t have the scope in this post to go into all the reasons why those last two traps are so destructive to your voice and the impression you make, but the short version is that you’ll lose authority and leadership qualities while at the same time damaging your vocal chords (in the long run).

I hope that’s reason enough.  Breathe, say hello, and do so on a rising-then-falling pitch, but not a vanishing volume, and not from the back of the throat.  And you’re good to go.

Is that worth the effort?

How important is a first impression?

Come and make a good first impression at our one-day workshop on Powerful Public Speaking in Boston on October 24.  Spaces are limited so sign up soon.


  1. This is huge — working with actors on their auditions, we always have to get past “apologizing” with their behavior, especially in how they greet their auditors and how they handle themselves outside of their actual acting. That rising inflection you’re referring to may have something to do with an internal apology — which goes against our need for them to lead us. Hi? My name is Andy? I’ll be doing two pieces today? (If that’s OK with you? Do you mind if I exist?)

    1. Andy, thanks for this. It’s so true — and not just for actors. I meet people all the time who say to me, “Hi, my name is Smith?” with that rising tone, and I want to say, “If you don’t know, how can I learn it?” Drives me crazy!

  2. Outstanding post. The principles you outline are brilliant. I’m a big fan of your book “Power Cues.” The focused energy & authority that we bring before we utter a syllable is expressed by body language. When we speak, tones can send unconscious data – positive or negative. I’m a musician and confirm the production of confident vocal pitch you describe.

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