3 Seconds to make an impact? Yes it’s that quick!

“I believe you don’t have years, or months, or weeks to impact a person’s life. You have seconds. Seconds to win them over, And seconds to lose them.” ― K.A. Tucker, Four Seconds to Lose

Three things happened all on the same day that all pointed to the same outcome – how quickly we make a decision or come to a conclusion that sticks for a very long time. Maybe, forever.

Sometimes you realise that those moments of coincidence are not really coincidences at all, but signposts pointing you to understand something important.

Firstly, I was speaking to a colleague about CV’s (curriculum vitae) and he said he had a 3-second rule. That is within the first 3 seconds of starting to read a CV, does it make an impression? If it does, then he reads on for a further 30 seconds. Does it still ring true? Does it feel consistent and genuine? Does it feel as if there is a real person behind it, rather than politically correct jargon? If so then good, but more often than not, the CV does not even get past the 3-second rule.

I then got one of my regular subscription emails, from an entrepreneur and one of the most influential bloggers globally, Chris Brogan (a link to his web site is at the end of this article). In the blog post he shared, he talked about the 3 seconds, or even less, before that someone takes to open or not an email and read it. Yep, 3 seconds and they will either read your email or ignore it. Then it might languish in your inbox for a while, or you will just press the delete key.

Finally, I then remembered something that was shared by an instructor on an interpersonal skills course many years ago. It concerned a college in the USA, where they videoed lecturers before the start of a course. The shared these initial 30-second videos, with no sound, to the students and asked them to rate their teaching ability. They then asked the students to re-rate the lecturers at the end of the term and correlated the results of both sets of questions. Amazingly, they correlated and demonstrated that the first impression that was silently presented, remained the dominant impression. They then wondered how short the video could be? 20 seconds? 10 seconds? Surely, not less than 5 seconds? They repeated the experiment with silent video clips of 2 seconds in length. And guess what? The 2-second ratings for college teachers were still significantly correlated with overall end-of-term effectiveness ratings.

So it is true. A few seconds is all it takes to make an impression.

Whether it is in writing, or visually, it is that quick. If you combine it with the way we speak and how we present ourselves, that “gut feeling” we get when we come into contact with someone for the first time, is generally the one we will stick with.

So how do you make a great first impression? Whether meeting face-2-face or through e:mail here are a few tips. They are not exhaustive, just pointers:

Chris Brogan talked about the following three ingredients:

  1. Vital – You have to write something that feels novel – rarely heard – that might stir an emotion of one kind or another (greed, fear, desire, disruption).
  2. Vital – You have to say something that resonates with the reader in some way. If people can’t see themselves in your writing, it’s invisible to them.
  3. Important – It helps if what you’re sending is useful. I’m not joking. People seem to LOVE to waste people’s time.

I hope I have tried to accomplish at least a couple of these with this article!

Checking for articles on how to make a good impression, and I came across a reasonable list from Mindtools, that gelled with me.

  1. Be on time. I hate being late for anything
  2. Present yourself appropriately. If it is a business meeting, business attire is the norm
  3. Be yourself. Being false and you can get quickly caught out.
  4. Have a winning smile.
  5. Be open and confident.
  6. Use small talk.
  7. Be positive.
  8. Be courteous and attentive.

So really good tips. I leave you with the following quote:

“We are here but for a second, but our impact ripples through time.” Neetal Parekh

Photo by Agê Barros on Unsplash

The article about the college silent video experiment can be referenced here:


The Chris Brogan article can be referenced here:


The article from Mindtools on positive impressions can be referenced here:


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