How many chances do you get to make a first impression?

woman speaking on laptop

How many chances do you get to make a first impression?

All presenters and public speakers face the same Universal challenge; getting and keeping their audience’s undivided attention.

Psychologists at Princeton University suggest that people make judgments about the attractiveness, likeability, trustworthiness, and competence of other people after looking at their faces for just 100 milliseconds.

No wonder so many people are so anxious about the idea of speaking in public.

After all, if it takes only one tenth of a second for our audience to make their minds about up about us when we are presenting that means many of us are potentially doomed before we even open our mouths.

If you were to google the question ‘How long does it take to make a first impression?,’ from the 42M results returned you will see there are a myriad of answers ranging from 7 to 60 seconds. 100 milliseconds is taking it a little far though if you ask me but regardless of the correct number it’s widely recognized that when it comes to presenting your opening line is critical to the success of your speech.

I think you’ll agree that its not at all unreasonable to suggest that if you really haven’t grabbed your audiences undivided attention and aroused their curiosity within the first 60 seconds you are likely to struggle from there on. You only have once chance to make a first impression.

There are numerous ways to open a presentation and here is a hand-picked selection of 60 second openings from

Carin Bondar: The birds and the bees are just the beginning

“Anyone in the room thought about sex today?”

If that doesn’t grab your attention and curiosity for what’s to come next I don’t really know what will. Fortunately for Carin the subject matter she is presenting on lends itself to the perfect opening so it’s probably not appropriate for you to throw that one in for your next quarterly update.

Whilst it may not be a typical opening for your average corporate presentation the point I’m making is not about sex.

It’s about opening with a question; a bold and thought provoking question.

If that doesn’t do it for you then how about a different approach to asking a question?

Hans and Ola Rosling: How not to be ignorant about the world

In this video, Hans Rosling opens up with a high energy multiple choice question which is supported by technology and game show music.

It’s not for everyone but we believe that you’re probably going to want to listen to what he has to say and you’ll certainly remember him.

Will Marshall: Tiny satellites show us the Earth as it changes in near-real-time

Perhaps you prefer something a little more subtle but equally captivating and interesting.

Like a bold statement supported by an iconic image of something we all have in common, the earth. Whilst we are all familiar with what our planet looks like from space I believe not many of us will know that the very first image of the earth shot from space was taken by the Apollo 17 astronauts in 1972. The great use of descriptive and colourful language like “hurtling around the moon” and ” it galvanised a whole generation of human beings” is definitely something that makes you lean in a little. How does this work as a first impression?

Kitra Cahana: My father, locked in his body but soaring free

Maybe this somber, emotional opening by Kitra Cahana sharing how she documented her father’s spiritual experience as he helped guide others even in a state of seeming helplessness may make you want to learn more.

Ramanan Laxminarayan: The coming crisis in antibiotics

Then there is always the opportunity to share a historical fact and fascinating story that most people will probably never have heard before.

Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend

Some people may even be fearless enough to make a confession; although calling on their audience to do so first.

My final selection is of one of the UK’s best loved chefs Jamie Oliver.

Jamie Oliver: Teach every child about food

He may be a world class chef but he’s not particularly good on his feet as you will see when you watch him nervously shuffle around.

What’s important here though is his opening.

He may not be the best speaker in the world but he certainly knew on this occasion how to grab his audience’s attention and keep it.

In this case he chose the route of delivering a shocking and sobering statement.

Remember, you only get the one chance to make a first impression.

Make your first 60 seconds count.

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I really hope you enjoyed this post. If you did, please feel free to share it through your preferred social media channels below and subscribe to our mailing list so you won’t miss any future posts.

If this article has inspired you to learn a little more about how effective your presentation skills are you may want to take a look at our presentation training and presentation coaching pages to see how we may be able to help you. You will also find a great deal of really helpful ‘free’ information in our Learning Centre.

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