There were these two nuns that always rushed. They rushed through morning prayers. They rushed through their parish duties. They rushed through their lives. One day Mother Superior decides they need to be more contemplative in their duties and slow down. She sits down with them and says, “I need you two to learn that rushing through everything is not the Lord’s way. You’re going to paint the upper bedroom of the convent. To help you learn some patience, I forbid you to get even a speck of paint on your clothes, the woodwork, or the floor.”

So the two nuns set about their task. They take their time. They put down tarps to protect the floor, masked the woodwork, and are careful not to get paint on their clothes.

About mid-morning Mother Superior stopped to see how they were doing. She praises the fine job they’re doing, but she sees they are never going to finish at their current rate, so she tells them, “There is a blind man coming. Feel free to have him help however he can.”

After mother superior left, the younger nun says to the other, “You know, if we took off all of our clothes, we could paint much faster and we wouldn’t get paint on our clothes.”

Appalled, the other exclaims, “But what if someone sees us.”

The younger one assures her that they will lock the door and that the blind man wouldn’t possibly care…or even know. With this reassurance, the other nun agrees. They remove their clothes, place them in a plastic bag, and resume their painting….albeit at a much more careless pace.

Around noon, there is a knock at the door. The younger nun goes to the door and asks, “Are you the blind man.”

A man’s voice on the other side says, “Yes,” so she opens the door to let him in.

The man looks her up and down and says, “Nice legs, sister, where would you like the blinds?”

What First Impression Are You Giving

You have to agree, that nun made quite the first impression on the blind man, but probably not the one she wanted. You may be exposing yourself in other ways that you, with a little thought, may find just as embarrassing. People make bad impressions online or at presentations without a second thought.

You’ve probably seen them too: someone needs a photo of themselves for a presentation or a social media site, and they invariably seem grab one from a beer party, day at the beach, or just rolling out of bed. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a guy using a perp-walk photo for their social media profile. But if you consider that people make lasting impressions of people they meet within the first two seconds, it can be embarrassing when looking back.

Maybe they think they can get around it by using a cute picture of their pet dog/cat/hamster/gila monster. Or their child. Or favorite cartoon/comic strip character. They think that it represents them better…it shows their personality. It probably does say a lot. But is that the message they want?

Another option I see people take, is just not putting up a photo at all. I would guess for the presentation, this is passable, but I don’t think it works well for social media sites. On LinkedIn, profiles with photos are more often viewed than profiles with no photos. People like pictures of people, and in the social media world this is critical when trying to make a good impression.

Is that shallow? Yes. Is it unfair? Yes. Is that the way it is? Yes. We can’t make the rules, so the best we can do is do the best with can with them.

I’ve been guilty of it bad decision making when it comes to photos on my profile. I’ve had photos of me in a Guinness T-shirt, holding a 40oz steak at a birthday party, and using the default avatar image on social networks for way too long.

I’m not suggesting you remove all the photos from the family BBQ from your Facebook galleries. I’m not suggesting you not be proud of your kids or pet or family. I am suggesting that thinking about that first impression people get of you from your profile photo.

Good News and Suggestions

I have been noticing a trend though of people putting more thought into the photos they use for their online profiles. In the last several months, the majority of the photo sessions I have had are for clients that need images for their profiles. Usually it is for LinkedIn, but they use them for Facebook and Twitter, too.

Here are a couple suggestions I think help make a good social media profile picture.

  • Smile. You don’t have to have $10,000 worth of dental work or even show your teeth, but any smile looks better than looking like you’re being tortured.
  • Look at the camera. Typically, in a social setting, people that don’t look at others can seem shifty or untrustworthy…generally, not good traits.
  • Use head and shoulder shot. Profile photos tend to be pretty small, so maximize your real estate. Going full length doesn’t give anyone a good idea what you look like; too close crowds a person’s virtual personal space.
  • Dress up versus down. If you’ve ever been to a party where everyone is dressed up while you’re not, you know how uncomfortable that can be. No one will fault you for doing the opposite (with maybe the exception of a tux or ballroom gown, but even that can work).

First Impression Are Often Non-Fatal

Certainly the nun in the opening story, suffered a bit of embarrassment, and a bad first impressions can sometimes be changed over time. I’ve only heard of one story where first impressions proved fatal.

There was a group of politicians traveling in a bus in rural America. On a very sharp curve, the driver lost control and went off the road. Someone dialed 911, but when the state policeman got the site of the accident, he found no bus. Seeing a local farmer working in his field, he walked across the field and asked, “Did you see a bus full of politicians go off the road up there?”

The farmer replied, “I sure did.”

“What happened to it,” asked the officer.

“I buried it,” the farmer replied.

The cop asked, “What?! Was everyone dead?”

The farmer simply replied, “Well, some said they weren’t, but you know how they lie.”

Now, go change your profile image.

As always, comments to this post are welcome.

Disclaimer: the jokes are not originally mine. I did tweak them a bit from the original version I heard many years ago, but I don’t remember their source.


The Art of Online Portraiture: Wall Street Journal

Even If You’re Not a Fan Of New Year’s Resolutions, Resolve To Become More Social Media Savvy in 2012!: Jenkinson & Associates

Want to Know How to Make a Difference to Your Personal Online Marketing?: University of Minnesota

The Art of Online Portraiture