You have 3 seconds

BY Dan Mack, Mack Elevation

Researchers believe that first impressions are created in under three seconds. In the blink of an eye, people assess your competence, aggressiveness, intelligence, and trustworthiness. As you finish your first line, you’ve already been critiqued. Observers automatically and unconsciously conduct a mental shortcut, judging whether they like or dislike, trust or mistrust.

Iconic music begins with an opening that you can’t forget. The lyrics are emotional, engaging and personal. It pulls the listener in, opening them to a journey they choose to take with the artist.

  • Prince’s “Purple Rain” begins: “I never meant to cause you any sorrow / I never meant to cause you any pain.”;
  • The Rolling Stones kick off “Sympathy for the Devil” with: “Please allow me to introduce myself / I’m a man of wealth and taste.”; and
  • Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” starts: “In the day we sweat it out in the streets of a runaway American dream.”

That first line matters, and it gives the artist the permission to move forward with the rest of the song. Does your opening give you permission to move forward? The first line of a presentation, like a song, paints a picture; it sets the atmosphere and allows you the confidence to continue. The first few seconds creates momentum for the rest of your story.

Daniel Kahneman, psychologist, Nobel laureate and author of “Thinking, Fast And Slow” has found that most people can predict accurately whether they will like a person, but they are also often wrong. The brain doesn’t like ambiguity — it would rather make quick, sealed decisions about its surroundings.

Kahneman’s research shows that our expectations tend to be self-fulfilling. One’s beliefs and assumptions about another person lead us to what we will see in that person. We are susceptible to confirmation bias, the tendency to search for and favor information that confirms our own preexisting beliefs.

All of us are occasionally guilty of interpreting ambiguous information in a way that supports our current positions. That is why the first few seconds of a meeting is so critical. You are being critiqued whether you like it or not.

Here are five top approaches to start a meeting:

  1. Share a brief story that conveys the intangible assets of your team and why it is relevant.
  2. Share emerging research, conveying how the category is changing and how to seize the shift.
  3. Start a presentation with a direct question that uncovers or validates “unrecognized” challenges.
  4. Convey a “what if” question, offering a vision of what could be co-created & the gap it fills.
  5. Demonstrate that you keenly understand their deepest challenges & prove you can solve it.

Tom Petty put it perfectly, once stating “You can lose someone by simply using one wrong word.”

To learn more about Mack Elevation’s coaching, consulting, training and leadership events visit


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