The 15 Second Rule

Studies have shown that we have 15 seconds to capture an audience’s attention; that is 15 seconds to create a good first impression.  As a former busker/street performer, I know this to be true.  When I was busking, I had a very short time to grab an audience and hook them. That is because they were not there to see me, I had just grabbed their attention and stopped them on their way to something else. Not only was it important for me to grab their attention, I needed to constantly add new information about every 15 seconds, to hold them there.  The moment they get bored, they are off and on their way to their original destination. I could only make money busking if they stay until the end, when I passed the hat.

Anytime people can see us they can’t help but form an impression of us.

One evening I was late getting to a performance venue and dinner had already been served.  I much prefer to have all my setup and checks done before anyone arrives. On this occasion, the entire audience could see me as I arrived, set up my backdrops, and my sound system. Unfortunately, because I was late and felt rushed I forgot about first impressions. I was not happy and it showed on my face.  Even though they were eating their dinner, the audience noticed me.  They came to the conclusion that I was not a happy person and assumed the performance would not be fun.  

When I walked on stage I had calmed down and was happy and smiling. But due to their first impression, I was never quite able to connect with them.  It was a hard lesson but I am glad I learned it early in my career.  Now I make sure that I am smiling and enjoying myself while setting up. I do this even when there is no one there but the sound technician to see me.

The same is true of just about any audience. In a very short time they have made a decision about you.  If you haven’t connected with them, they are on their phones, or they are thinking about their grocery list, or any of a hundred other things.  They may remain there physically but they are not really with you. Even in one-on-one conversations and in small groups, if you hope to share your passion with someone, you need to capture their attention right away.  If you don’t, you will have lost your opportunity to connect with them.  If you know you are going to be meeting someone new, instead of just “winging it”, try practicing what you will say.  Take advantage of the 15 second rule and determine to make a good first impression.