3 non-verbals to pass the 3 second test

You shake hands with your prospect — but you don’t feel friendly vibes… what did your non-verbals do wrong in those first 3 seconds prior to the handshake?

3 non-verbal ways to boost your instant likeability.

  • Dump the Distractions
  • Preload the smile
  • Check your non-verbals

Just a reminder of the goal — to be liked in 3 seconds. Does that sound weird?

You could easily say — ‘how can someone like me without knowing me — and they can’t know me in 3 seconds!

Fair point.

When I say — ‘like’ — I mean ‘feel good about’ and ‘instinctively trust’ — feel ‘drawn to’

Caveat: You could follow these 3 non-verbal tactics and then go downhill rapidly and end up NOT being liked — but I am assuming you are not going to do that!

1. Dump the distractions

There is only one place you should be in these first 3 seconds of interaction with a group of networking attendees, a face to face with a prospect or a meeting with a potential investor….

Where is that place?

With them — there — where they are — in the moment with no distractions

So what are potential distractions and resulting non-verbal negatives to be aware of?


A previous/upcoming meeting

A family disagreement

A backache/headache

A pre-conception

Uncomfortable clothing

Mobile phone


Non focused listening

Insincere listening

Pained expression


Tense body language

Lack of eye contact

Amy Cuddy reminds us, in her book ‘Presence’, that anxiety, stress, negative mood and distracting thoughts are all components of ‘powerlessness’ — and that might well show in seconds. There is a lot going on in those first moments — non-verbals are often missed by your conscious self — so self-awareness is crucial.

You only get one chance to make a first impression — so concentrate and leave the other baggage behind.

2. Preload the smile

A smile works best when it is genuine and spontaneous, however we all know that is not always possible — LOL :)

So, If the spontaneity bit is missing there is a way to deliberately create a warm expression in the vital first seconds of interaction.

Hang on — ‘deliberately create’ something that is meant to be genuine?

Yes — you can create a genuine smile (I know that sounds like an oxymoron — but trust me)

Follow this sequence and magic happens:


You basically trick your brain into believing the smile — and once you are on that track you really begin to feel like smiling — it is a marvel of our wiring.

How does a smile make me instantly likeable?

There is so much research on the science and psychology of smiles — too much for this short post! Suffice to say — smiling has a proven effect on both the ‘smiler’ and the ‘smilee’

Smiles are contagious — not only are you in a more positive mood when you smile — you also make the people around you feel better — therefore they like you!.

‘Smiling can create a halo effect, which causes us to make a wide range of positive associations with people who smile at us.’ Neffinger & Kohut — Compelling People

Some people have smiley type faces

Some people have more naturally smiley shaped faces than others — just a fluke of birth! It is not always an advantage however — I refer to Fiona Bruce reading out a sad news items.

If, like me, you tend to look severe or sad when you are not deliberately making a facial expression — your resting face in other words — then you need to consciously check in with yourself before entering any interaction space — BEFORE entering!

Instant likeability tool — the smile — in summary:

  • Communication is more than words — gestures count a lot — they are reinforcers
  • A smile can work for you or against you at that first impressions moment — get it right
  • A genuine smile projects warmth and is contagious — good start in the rapport process.

3. Check your non-verbals

Researchers like Birdswhistell argued that it is the non-verbal ingredient of an interaction that carries by far and away the greatest meaning — two-thirds in fact

You are well aware of non-verbal body language — it is a huge subject …so I will focus in on 3 specific body language tips that relate directly to this post — body language that could make or break your 3 second likeability.

  • Fidgety
  • Crossed arms
  • Checking mobile

All of the above give the impression that you don’t want to be there — back to #1 — you are not present. You might not intentionally be putting up a barrier — but remember they don’t know you — they pick up a vibe and it takes a long time to reverse that negative vibe — far longer than it took to inadvertently create it.

Fidgety includes a host of actions — rubbing your eyes, fiddling with hair, keys in pocket… not good for instant trust!

Crossed arms — there are many varieties — but generally seen as a barrier — there is also no way you are going to feel relaxed with your arms tensed.

Checking phone — yes this is now part of body language! I need not say more — you KNOW this is bad!

Summing up

  • You have to make a conscious effort to get your mind and body in the moment and giving off warm vibes — and you can’t rewind the clock
  • Next time you meet someone for the first time — be aware of your first impressions of them — and then analyse — why? When you figure out why you find someone instantly likeable then you figure out what works the other way round too — good game
  • It is not easy to know what impression we make — and to be honest a good dose of coaching can really pay off! I am here for you ;) See what I did there

None of us can see ourselves as others see us — fact

That is where a coach is invaluable — objectivity, perspective and feedback — all within a confidential, supporting and safe environment. Just saying.