It’s a well-known fact that body language makes a huge impact on your ability to impress others. Of the many aspects of body language that count in impression management, the cues that you give off in the first few minutes—or even seconds—of meeting others play a particularly important role. Often, you make those crucial first impressions when you enter an ongoing event or situation. Whether it’s a social gathering, business meeting, date, or family occasion, by focusing on the way you walk into the room, you can control whether the rest of the encounter goes well or poorly for you.
Stage performers are the consummate experts in making a grand entrance. In a scripted performances, actors and directors work hard to ensure that each character’s body language conveys an instant peek into his or her personality, motivation, and relationships with the other characters. Even classical musicians, whom you might think of as controlling impressions by their ability to perform the piece, control the audience’s reaction to their work by the way they first make their appearance into the concert hall.
In a study of people’s reactions to the entrances made by classical violinists, Friedrich Platz and Reinhard Kopiez (2013) of the Hanover University of Music, in Germany, conducted a series of online surveys in which participants were instructed to watch videos of violinists and react to the impressions the performers made in the moment they became visible on the stage and before they played the first musical tone. Surprisingly, neither clothing nor attractiveness were important influences on the impressions the violinists made. Instead, viewers judged the performers on such criteria on whether the performers nodded at the audience, looked around before they picked up the bow, strode in confidently as they walked across the stage to take their spot next to the conductor, and once there, whether they placed their feet in a relatively wide stance.
We can conclude that making a confident and pleasing entrance can influence how you’re perceived in those first moments after you enter your own stage. However, the Platz and Kopiez study also showed that the audience’s initial reactions carried over to influence how they perceived the entire performance. If they were favorably impressed by the performer, they didn’t want the performance to end. If you’ve ever sat restlessly through a concert, you can surely relate to this. It's possible that your boredom and discomfort were due to the musician’s inability to capture your attention in those seconds before starting to play or sing.
Another aspect of the Platz and Kopierz study relates to the match or mismatch between the audience’s expectations and the performer’s actual behavior. A grand entrance may be great for some situations but completely inappropriate for others. I highly doubt that the violinists in the study would enter their living rooms at home in the same way they marched on stage to join the orchestra. If they did, their families would undoubtedly give them a pretty hard time.
With this background in mind, these 8 tips can turn your own entrances into not just grand, but great ones that accomplish your own impression-management goals:
Great entrances are often grand, but they’re most likely to be successful if they’re appropriate for the situation. Once you’ve mastered your ability to control what happens first, you’ll be far more likely to enjoy yourself and create a great impression, no matter what happens next.
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Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., 2014
Reference: Platz, F., & Kopiez, R. (2013). When the First Impression Counts: Music Performers, Audience and the Evaluation of Stage Entrance Behaviour. Musicae Scientiae, 17(2), 167–97.