What to Say to Make the Most Memorable First Impression? (Psychology)

Many people remember the words of others long after they met, even if they only met once. Words evoke emotion, which creates memories—for better or for worse. Positive memories of people based on the impact of their words can be powerful building blocks upon which to build relationships, both personal and professional. Whether you are looking for a new paramour or a new employer, thoughtfully pairing your words with positive emotion is a valuable investment in your future.

The Way You Make Me Feel

We all have friends, neighbors, or coworkers that we love to run into, not only because we anticipate positive conversation, but because of the way their face lights up with a smile when they see us, expressing authentically consistent interest in our lives. We also have people we would rather avoid—often because their negativity is similarly expressed both verbally and visually.

The sentiment has been attributed to the famous American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou as well as others, that people will forget what you said, but will remember how you made them feel. Personal experience corroborates this observation, as does research.

Stephanie S.A. Blom et al. in a piece aptly entitled “Perceiving Emotions in Visual Stimuli” (2020) recognized how social display of emotional facial expressions interaction can reveal the inner emotional states of interaction partners.[i] Among other findings, they recognized increasing levels of supporting contextual information as a way to increase the amount of emotion detection for words, but not facial expressions. They summarize their results as suggesting that the addition of emotionally relevant voice elements provides a method of positively influencing the detection of emotion.

This finding is significant in assessing potential social advantages through the appropriate combination of words and emotion. Blom et al. recognize the positive impact emotions can have on the processing of spoken words, citing the example of how reading aloud to young children positively impacts social-emotional development. We can imagine how many conversations in our own lives can be enhanced through pairing encouraging and inspiring words with contextually appropriate positive emotion. Authentic expressions of interest, respect, and admiration are memorable during a first meeting, as well as within established relationships. And apparently, according to other research, every word matters.

Words as Emotional Speech

Marisa G. Filipe et al. (2015), examined the impact of single words on perceived emotion.[ii] Filipe et al. define emotional prosody as referring to “the variation in acoustic cues such as fundamental frequency (F0), amplitude (or intensity), timing, and voice quality during speech that is used to convey the emotional meaning of an utterance.” Conducting their research in the Portuguese language, they investigated the impact of perceptual and acoustic characterization on the expression of liking and disliking. Using 30 study participants to identify vocal patterns as well as the intensity of expressed affect in single pre-recorded words, they found that participants consistently linked vocal profiles with perceived liking and disliking, finding intonation of liking intonation easier to recognize.

Although the authors recognize that additional research may clarify whether affect recognition and vocal cues may have different impacts across different languages, studies like this arguably highlight the significance of the interplay between emotion and words—even single words.

Words and Emotion

In light of research and experience, both empirical and anecdotal, we expect that words of encouragement and inspiration will be more memorable when they are accompanied by positive emotion. When you take advantage of this emotionally charged opportunity to authentically empower and inspire others, your audience is likely to remember not only how your words made them feel, but remember you—fondly.


References: [i] Blom, Stephanie S. A. H., Henk Aarts, and Gün R. Semin. 2020. “Perceiving Emotions in Visual Stimuli: Social Verbal Context Facilitates Emotion Detection of Words but Not of Faces.” Experimental Brain Research, November. doi:10.1007/s00221-020-05975-9. [ii] Filipe, Marisa G., Paulo Branco, Sónia Frota, São Luís Castro, and Selene G. Vicente. 2015. “Affective Prosody in European Portuguese: Perceptual and Acoustic Characterization of One-Word Utterances.” Speech Communication 67 (March): 58–64. doi:10.1016/j.specom.2014.09.007.


Copyright of this article totally belongs to Wendy L. Patrick who, is a career trial attorney, behavioral analyst, author of Red Flags, and co-author of Reading People. This article is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses

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