The First 15 Seconds

Make a great first impression by taking control of your appearance, voice tone, and body language.

April 1, 2007

Within a fraction of a minute, new prospects have already formed opinions about you.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (Little, Brown and Co., 2005) uses the term “thin slicing” to describe this process. “It involves taking a narrow slice of data, just what you can capture in the blink of an eye, and letting your intuition do the work for you," Gladwell writes.

Thin slicing happens all the time when you meet new people: The way they dress, the tone of their voice, and their body language tell us what kind of people they are. You might not always be correct, but you form opinions nonetheless.

Potential clients are doing the same thing when they meet you. That’s why the first 15 seconds of your initial encounter is such a critical time to shape your image and convince people them that you're worthy of their business.

Whether you make your first impression in person, on the telephone, on the Web, or when your marketing materials land in their mailbox, you have just one chance to make sure your “thin slice” is a good one. Here’s how to do it.


The words you use in conversation are actually just a small component of how you communicate. When you’re working an open house, greeting a walk-in customer, or networking at a charity event, people will form opinions about you (often subconsciously) by reading your body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, and overall appearance. Here’s how to make those encounters memorable:

  • People use visual cues as a strong guide in forming their opinions. So make sure your clothes are neat and your style is suitable to the occasion.
  • A smile and enthusiastic tone tells everyone you’re happy to be there, and will communicate to prospects you’re excited to meet them.
  • Be aware of your body language. Stand up straight, look people in the eye, and don’t fiddle with your clothing or hair — that could communicate you’re uncomfortable.

On the Web

An estimated 80 percent of all buyers use the Internet to help find a home, according to research by the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. In the first 15 seconds after prospects land on your Web site, what might they conclude about you and your business? To ensure your online presence is painting a favorable picture of you, take these steps:

  • Ask colleagues and friends to look at your Web site on a regular basis and give honest feedback. Is the site easy to use? Do they like the way it looks? Can they find key information? A link that prompts users to “Provide Feedback About This Site” also can elicit some useful comments.
  • Respond promptly and enthusiastically to e-mail inquiries. But before you press “Send,” use spell-check and make sure your e-mail looks polished. Online marketing is becoming more important in real estate. Like any other communication from your office, it must be polished.
  • Online consumers want anonymity, control, privacy, and easy access to real estate information. Give them what they want without being pushy, but let them know you’re there to provide personalized service as soon as they’re ready to advance from the information-gathering stage.

On the Telephone

Prospects who respond to your ads or get your name from a friend often make first contact with a phone call. With your appearance out of sight, your voice must do all the work in shaping a positive first impression. Here’s how:

  • Greet callers with a smile; even though they can’t see it, they can hear it. A friendly, sincere tone goes a long way. Let them know you’re excited to help them buy or sell their home.
  • Show them they’re important by not putting them on hold while you’re searching for information or answering other calls. If you’re not able to answer their questions right away, gather relevant information from them and return their call as soon as possible.
  • Offer your undivided attention. Callers who know you’re actively engaged in their conversation will sense it and appreciate your attentive attitude. Take notes while listening to the caller. Don’t check e-mail, file papers, or try to get other work done while on a call.

In The Mailbox

The fourth way consumers might encounter you for the first time is when they check their mailbox and see your printed promotional materials. You have a limited time to grab prospects’ attention and get them to remember you in a positive way. To make the best possible impression:

  • Treat your promotional materials with the same care that you give to your resume. Use the best paper and printer you can afford, and proofread the materials to ensure it’s free of spelling or grammatical errors that would leave an unfavorable impression.
  • Use a professional design service, or invest in a software program to make high-quality mailers and flyers. Be sure that all photos look crisp and professional, and that your materials look clean and uncluttered.
  • Do the scan test. Ask colleagues or friends to scan your marketing materials and tell you what they think. Do they understand your target market? Would they want to do business with you?

The First Seconds Count

So don’t leave first impressions up to chance. After all, snap decisions aren’t always the best decisions, but sometimes they're surprisingly accurate, as Gladwell points out in his book. To make a stronger impression, pay attention to what you’re saying nonverbally with your appearance, tone of voice, and body language. All of these elements can help you convince people to make you their real estate pro.

John D. Mayfield, ABR, CRB, e-PRO, GRI, is a sales coach, author, and broker/owner of Mayfield Real Estate in Farmington, Mo. You can contact Mayfield through his Web site,