Many years ago, I read a book, You Are the Message by Roger Ailes, that was extremely helpful to me as a communicator. Although originally published in 1989, it is still in print. Of all the many useful concepts Ailes presents, none is more important than "the first 7 seconds."
Here’s the essence of the idea: when you and I stand to communicate, Ailes believes we’ve got about 7 seconds for our audience to decide what they think of us. I remember the first time I read this – 7 seconds!!! That’s not long. All these years later, I still think – 7 seconds is not that long. So whether it’s a precise, empirically derived principle or not, it does represent a window of opportunity.
Here are a few of my suggestions to maximize those precious few seconds.
Be Prepared – Do you know exactly what you’re going to say during those first 7 seconds? If your answer is "Yes, it’s in my notes," that’s the wrong answer. There’s nothing wrong with using notes, even a manuscript if that suits your style, but don’t use either in the first 7 seconds. Look at the audience, make eye contact with someone in the room and begin – at least the first few seconds without looking at your notes. Commit the beginning, and I recommend the close as well, to memory. Deliver it from your heart.
Start Strong – Strong voice, strong posture, strong content. I know that situations vary greatly, but the speaker who begins with several minutes of thanking this person and that person may be digging a hole for themselves. If this is how you begin, you’ll have to work hard to bring the audience back.
Look Sharp – No dress for success message here. I don’t think you need to wear a dark suit and a white shirt to deliver an amazing presentation. However, if you believe Ailes' premise, EVERYTHING communicates. I have to confess, I have been distracted by men and women based on how they presented themselves. Don’t let what you’re wearing be a distraction.
Move with Purpose – I know this is extremely tactical, but with such a short time to make this important first impression, my belief is that the clock actually begins BEFORE we begin speaking. When introduced, can people sense energy in your stride? Does your body language communicate your excitement to be there or a reluctance to speak?
Having done thousands of presentations over the years, I’m convinced - the first 7 seconds really do matter. However, according to a friend of mine, the first 7 minutes are even more important. I’ll write about that next week.[GLS_Shield]