Q: How I look and act when people first meet me is less important than once they get to know me. Who cares about the first impression?
A: We can learn a lot from research on musical performances (I say this as a research and a performer). One group of researchers found that an audience at a classical music performance makes numerous judgments about a performer’s competence and skill before they even begin playing.
This study was published in the music research journal Musicae Scientiae in 2013, conducted by two researchers at the Hanover University of Music in Germany.
The researchers were primarily interested in stage entrances.
- Specifically, what information is conveyed to audiences by the way a musician steps onto the stage and sits down, before a single note is even played?
- The researchers hypothesized that even subtle behaviors by a performer still act as social communication, and a first impression literally “sets the stage” for the entire performance.
First, the researchers did some preliminary analyses:
- The researchers did their FIRST study at the Hanover Joseph Joachim International Violin Competition, 2009.
After each violinist performed their pieces, they were asked to fill out a survey about themselves.
The survey included information like age and sex, but also how long they have been formally trained in violin and how many performances they’ve done.
Multiple camera-angle shots were taken of each performance (long shot, side view, and close-up).
Then, the researchers cut out the actual performance. The resulting videos consisted of performers walking out onto the stage, walking to their place, bowing to the audience, sitting down, and tuning their instruments.
- Then 200 participants were recruited as judges from university mailing lists and classical music social networking groups. Almost half of the judges attended at least 9 concerts or competitions a year.
- Each participant was randomly shown a sample of the stage entrance videos to judge.
Then, each participant made a huge list of behaviors that they felt were most important in judging the musicians’ stage entrance (both good and bad).
This list included behavioral items like:
- Eye contact
- Head nodding
- Body posture
- Upright posture of head
- Touching of clothes
- Unsteady gaze
- Deep bow
- Appropriate walking speed
- Tensed mouth muscles
But also visual elements such as:
- Eccentric hairstyle
- Vintage shoes
- Fashionable dress
Then, a second data analysis was performed to reduce this list to a minimum number of the most reliable and common 10 items. The resulting items that were most important when audiences judged a performer’s stage entrance were:
- How often they nodded at the audience.
- The direction of their gaze.
- How often the performer changed the direction of his/her gaze.
- How often the performer touched her-/himself (their clothes, messed with their hair, etc.)
- Stance width.
- Step size used for stage entrance.
- Walking pace used for stage entrance.
- This time, around 1000 participants were recruited as judges.
- Once again, participants were randomly shown a musician’s stage entrance (they used the same videos taken from the above violin competition), and then they filled out a short questionnaire rating the stage entrance on the 10 elements above.
Only this time, after viewing the isolated stage entrance of a performer, the participants were asked a crucial question: Would they like to continue watching that performer’s piece?
- The researchers classified all the musicians into three categories, based on participants’ judgments of their stage entrances:
- Appropriate (the best)
- Inappropriate (the worst)
- Then, the researchers examined whether the participants’ judgments of stage entrances made a difference in whether participants wanted to continue watching the performer’s piece.
- They found that stage entrance made a HUGE difference as to whether the participants wanted to keep watching a performance.
|Stop Performance||Continue Performance|
MORAL OF THE STORY:
Audience members judged musicians from the moment they walked out on the stage.
They judged performers on a range of things, from behaviors to clothing and appearance all the way to perceived judgments of likeability and confidence.
The performer’s stage entrance made a HUGE difference on whether audience members wanted to actually listen to the performance pieces.
- Audience members wanted to continue listening to 92% of the performers with good stage entrances.
- Audience members wanted to continue listening to only 26% of the performers with bad stage entrances.
Think these results only apply to musical performances? Are you saying, “I’m not a musician, why do I care about this?”
“All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts…” – William Shakespeare, from Act II, Scene VII of As You Like It.
When you are presenting yourself to others, you’re like a performer on a stage. This research goes to show that audience members are humans, and are wired to judge people on first appearances. They even make judgments as to whether they even want to keep hearing those people.
Having a good stage entrance (aka first impression) gave performers a 66% boost in the audience wanting to continue hearing them.
When you meet someone for the first time (potential boss, new friends, network contacts, potential clients, etc.), what impression are you sending with your behavior?
Platz, F., & Kopiez, R. (2013). When the first impression counts: Music performers, audience and the evaluation of stage entrance behaviour. Musicae Scientiae, 17(2), 167-197. Link: https://msx.sagepub.com/content/17/2/167