When you think about the singles dating scene, how do you feel? Excited? Intimidated? Worried whether you can trust someone? And, is it worth the effort if you do? Believe me, I understand. You’re not alone. I’ve heard the same concerns and fears from literally hundreds and thousands of people. But I can assure you that dating and finding that someone special, as daunting as it may seem, is absolutely worth the effort!

I am a professor, therapist, researcher, and author—who for almost three decades has directed a landmark study on love, dating, marriage and relationships, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Every day, I answer questions about love, dating, and relationships. And, one thing I have discovered is that when you’re dating, first impressions are what set relationships into motion. People start judging you from the moment they meet you. When you make a really good first impression, you increase your odds of a second date and a potential long-term relationship. So what can you do to make the very best impression out of the gate?

Below are several of my helpful tips to make the best impression on a first date. All of the strategies are important to consider, regardless of your archetype. However, depending on your archetype, I have pinpointed one key strategy that focuses on your strengths, which will allow you to shine on first dates. Remember, you only get one chance to make a good lasting impression, so make it a good one!

Plan ahead. Take time to think about what you’ll do and say on the first date. Plan what kind of image you want to present. Rehearse questions, make a list of possible topics to talk about, and make reservations in advance for dinner, the theatre, or wherever you plan to go. By planning ahead, you’ll come across as a person who cares and makes plans, is serious about dating, and considers the date to be important.

Dress up.Focus on your outer appearance. How you dress on a first date not only leaves a lasting first impression, but it also signals to your date future ideas about you. You don’t have to dress to the nines or put on a coat or tie, but wear something you feel comfortable in that presents you in the best light. By putting your finest forward, you’ll come across as a person who cares and is serious about dating. 

Pump up the humor. Humor makes any date better. Smile and laugh to put your date in a good mood. If you are too serious, you might give off the vibe that you are “too much work to be with” and not much fun. But whatever you do, stay away from self-deprecating humor. Making fun of yourself may seem like a disarming way to break the ice, but it isn’t funny and screams low self-esteem.

Reveal gradually. On a first date, many people make the mistake of laying it all on the table, the good and the bad, so your date knows exactly what he or she is getting into and what you’re all about. Instead, disclose personal things gradually. If this person is right for you, there will be plenty of time to unfold, and that will make you endlessly exciting and interesting, rather than burdensome and overwhelming. 

Keep it short. Whatever activity you do, 2 ½ hours is ideal for a first date. A meal is always a good choice because it has a beginning, middle and end. Treat this like a short performance or race. Start the clock and when the check comes, your date is over.  If it seems too brief, make another date! 

Arrive with an open and positive mind. Show up with the attitude that this date is an opportunity to meet someone you might not have otherwise met. Be enthusiastic, upbeat and stand tall with confidence. A positive, optimistic approach is what people find most attractive. Remember that even if you don’t have romantic chemistry, you may have found a potential friend.

Choose the right place to meet. Think outside the box and make the first date unique and impactful. You want this first date to be different and out of the ordinary. A movie is not a good choice for a first date nor is a loud rock concert. Instead, choose a place where you and your date can talk, observe, and interact. For example, instead of a coffee shop, meet at a coffee cart in a park in the city!

Do not rush judgment. It is almost impossible to make a sound decision about someone on the first date. Sure, sometimes the chemistry is so lacking that you know immediately you could never have sparks, but give them every opportunity for a connection to develop. Your date may be nervous, so try to be as open-minded as possible.

Ask questions. Don’t spend the entire first date talking about yourself. You may feel the need to sell yourself, but instead, ask the other person questions. Find out about his or her favorite activities and hobbies. Someone who asks questions is seen as interesting and attractive on first dates. If your date asks you question after question, which may be a nervous defense, take charge and say, “Enough about me. I’d love to hear more about you.”

Listen well. Be a good listener, which requires more than your ears. It uses your eyes, your body, and your mind. Listen to what the other person says, think for a few seconds, and then respond. Make eye contact. You need to be able to really hear what your date is saying to you before you can ask a good question in return. The best questions are ones that directly focus on your date’s answer.

Do date.  The right person will not just show up and find you. You need to take responsibility and put yourself out there, talk to others, and look for compatibility. Most importantly, you have to believe in the dating process. Remember that you might go out on many first dates, before you find the person who is right for you. First dates are vital to falling in love!

Use body language to show interest. When people are interested in someone romantically, they often give nonverbal signals to the other person long before they say a single word. People can signal interest with their eye contact, smile, posture, and body movements. On your first date, if you like or are interested in the other person, be sure to use your eyes or body movements to show you are approachable, and to make a good first impression.

So who is The Love Doctor®? Dr. Terri L. Orbuch (PhD), better known as “The Love Doctor,” is one of America’s most trusted relationship experts. She is a professor, therapist, research scientist, and author of five best-selling books, including “Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship.” She brings her simple, straightforward, scientifically-proven relationship advice to Archetypes.com.