As humans, we make judgments about people, places, and objects almost as soon as we see them. So, when it comes to the world of event production, first impressions set the stage.
BizBash and zkipster asked top event producers and first-impressions psychology expert Dr. Alexander Todorov about the science behind how people form opinions of events. Here are three takeaways from the experts:
The First Impression Happens Fast
People are wired to make snap judgments. First impressions form in an extremely short amount of time, and once a judgment has been formed, it's difficult to shake, regardless of the accuracy.
As Rachel Gross of Univision says, “If you don't make a good first impression, you spend a lot of time making up for a bad one.”
Just as a person's face informs many of the initial inferences we make about them, so too does the first step into an event. If an attendee shows up to an event and the check-in process is hectic and slow, they will infer that the event itself is disorganized and chaotic. But an unexpected personal touch, like the check-in staff already knowing who you are on sight, can create a positive sentiment even before stepping through the entrance.
People Want a Balance of Familiar and Unfamiliar
Todorov, a Princeton psychologist whose work is devoted to first impressions, studies snap decisions and factors that cause people to draw certain inferences. In general, he says people are more drawn to people or things with which they are familiar.
While events strive to produce new experiences for guests, Todorov believes it's important to balance out this newness with familiarity. He explains, “Filling a room with familiar stimuli is a way to reduce nervous stimulation.”
People react positively to familiar faces. Seeing familiar faces and establishing existing connections allows an attendee to feel more at ease. When curating a guest list, having organized event data about who has attended which of your events can provide the edge in hitting just the right mix of familiar and new faces.
Nonverbal Cues Matter Most
Most first impressions are generated on a nonverbal level. For people, this comes in the form of body language. Crossed arms can be interpreted as shy or guarded, while an open and relaxed stance can be more inviting.
The same concept goes for events. People pick up on other nonverbal aspects like lighting and the venue layout—whether it's tight and with short sight lines or open and expansive. But a good first impression goes beyond vision and appeals to all of the senses.
As celebrity party planner puts it, “No sense is more important than the other. It's a combination of how we use them in harmony to set one of them up for success.”
Attendees continuously judge an event based on cues like music volume, food temperature, lighting, and a hundred other subtle details. Thinking through every aspect of the guest experience will naturally translate into a positive first impression.