You Only Have Ten Seconds to Show You’re a Somebody

The moment two humans lay eyes on each other has awesome potency. The first sight of you is a brilliant holograph. It burns its way into your new acquaintance’s eyes and can stay emblazoned in his or her memory forever. 

Artists are sometimes able to capture this quicksilver, fleeting emotional response. I have a friend, Robert Grossman, an accomplished caricature artist who draws regularly for Forbes, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone and other popular North American publications. Bob has a unique gift for capturing not only the physical appearance of his subjects, but zeroing in on the essence of their personalities. The bodies and souls of hundreds of luminaries radiate from his sketch pad. One glance at his caricatures of famous people and you can see, for instance, the insecure arrogance of Madonna, the imperiousness of Newt Gingrich, the bitchiness of Leona Helmsley. 

Sometimes at a party, Bob will do a quick sketch on a cocktail napkin of a guest. Hovering over Bob’s shoulder, the onlookers gasp as they watch their friend’s image and essence materialize before their eyes. When he’s finished drawing, he puts his pen down and hands the napkin to the subject. Often a puzzled look comes over the subject’s face. He or she usually mumbles some politeness like, ‘Well, er, that’s great But it really isn’t me.’

The crowd’s convincing crescendo of ‘Oh yes it Al’ drowns the subject out and squelches any lingering doubt The confused subject is left to stare back at the world’s view of him-self or herself in the napkin.

Once when I was visiting Bob’s studio, I asked him how he could capture people’s personalities so well. He said, ‘It’s simple. I just look at them.’

‘No,’ I asked, ‘How do you capture their personalities? Don’t you have to do a lot of research about their lifestyle, their history?’

‘No, I told you, Leil, I just look at them’
He went on to explain, ‘Almost every facet of people’s personalities is evident from their appearance, their posture, the way they move. For instance …’ he said, calling me over to a file where he kept his caricatures of political figures.

‘See,’ Bob said, pointing to angles on various presidential body parts, ‘here’s the boyish-ness of Clinton,’ showing me his half-smile; ‘the awkwardness of George Bush,’ pointing to his shoulder angle; ‘the charm of Reagan,’ putting his finger on the ex-president’s smiling eyes; ‘the shiftiness of Nixon,’ pointing to the tilt of his head. Digging a little deeper into his file, he pulled out Franklin Delano Roosevelt and, pointing to the nose high in the air, ‘Here’s the pride of It’s all in the face and the body.

First impressions are Why? Because in our fast-paced information-overload world of multiple stimuli bombarding us every second, people’s heads are spinning. They must form quick judgments to make sense of the world and get on with what they have to do. So, whenever people meet you, they take an instant mental snapshot That image of you becomes the data they deal with for a very long time.

Your body shrieks before your lips can speak

Is their data accurate? Amazingly enough, yes. Even before your lips part and the first syllable escapes, the essence of YOU has already axed its way into their brains. The way you look and the way you move is more than 80 percent of someone’s first impression of you. Not one word need be spoken.

I’ve lived and worked in countries where I didn’t speak the native language. Yet, without one understandable syllable spoken between us, the years proved my first impressions were on target. Whenever I met new colleagues, I could tell instantly how friendly they felt toward me, how confident they were, and approximately how much stature they had in the company. I could sense, just from seeing them move, which were the heavyweights and which were the welterweights.

I have no extrasensory skills. You’d know, too. How? Because before you have had time to process a rational thought, you get a sixth sense about someone. Studies have shown emotional reactions occur even before the brain has had time to register what’s causing that reaction. Thus the moment someone looks at you, he or she experiences a massive hit, the impact of which lays the groundwork for the entire relationship. Bob told me he captures that first hit in creating his caricatures. 

Deciding to pursue my own agenda for How to Talk to Anyone, I asked, ‘Bob, if you wanted to portray somebody really cool — you know, intelligent, strong, charismatic, principled, fascinating, caring, interested in other people …’

‘Easy,’ Bob interrupted. He knew precisely what I was getting at. ‘Just give ’em great posture, a heads-up look, a confident smile, and a direct gaze: It’s the ideal image for somebody who’s a Somebody.

How to look like a somebody

A friend of mine, Karen, is a highly respected professional in the home-furnishings business. Her husband is an equally big name in the communications field. They have two small sons.

Whenever Karen is at a home-furnishings industry event, everyone pays deference to her. She’s a Very Important Person in that world. Her colleagues at conventions jostle for position just to be seen casually chatting with her and, they hope, be photographed rubbing elbows with her for industry bibles like Home Furnishings Executive and Furniture World.

Yet, Karen complains, when she accompanies her husband to communications functions, she might as well be a nobody. When she takes her kids to school functions, she’s just another mum. She once asked me, ‘Leil, how can I stand out from the crowd so people who don’t know me will approach me and at least assume I’m an interesting person?’ The techniques in this section accomplish precisely that. When you use the next nine techniques, you will come across as a special person to everyone you meet. You will stand out as a Somebody in whatever crowd you find yourself in, even if it’s not your crowd.

Let’s start with your smile.