Confidence Key To A Great First Impression

7 seconds . . .

Conventional wisdom touts this duration as the critical span in which a person generates a First Impression . . . of another person, a new environment, music, a painting, etc. Basically, anything that can be evaluated through the five senses, will be.

The senses then collaborate, reach consensus, and dispatch a vague but extremely judgmental report to your brain for processing.

All within 7 seconds.

Search ‘First Impression’ on the web and you will be provided countless articles and references on how to make a Great, not Good, but Great First Impression. Most will highlight pertinent physical aspects such as posture, a smile, proper hygiene, a firm handshake, professional attire. All well-intended, and sound advice across the board.

What is overlooked so frequently is this:

The true secret to a Great First Impression is understanding what is at stake.

When you begin with that depth of awareness, everything else will generate outward in pristine proportion, like ripples in a pond. You will ooze confidence, a brilliant smile and firm handshake being the natural result of a belief in yourself. Yours will be an actively engaged posture, feeding off confidence in the moment, drawing your guest, client, or listener into the excitement and potential of the experience.

You won’t need seven seconds because you’re already there.

Below, we’ll trace the stories behind three First Impressions, using the world of music and entertainment as our muse. They will each acknowledge, in chorus, that understanding is key . . . discovering the key to understanding is something we must learn to acknowledge.

With that being said, on with the show . . .

Believing In Yourself

“People want to hear songs that make them remember, and make them forget.”

The year was 1955, the location tiny Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee.

The words were from legendary Music Producer Sam Philips. The message was clear to young Johnny Cash, who after a less-than-inspired audition, was challenged by the producer to go deeper, to sing songs that people truly wanted to hear, songs that made them feel.

What Johnny Cash embraced was the courage to make choices that were genuine, that at times can expose aspects of ourselves most people don’t see, that help us to create emotional connections true relationships are grounded in. In short, he kept it real.

This story was captured brilliantly in the film “Walk the Line”, an engrossing depiction of the music legend more simply known as the Man in Black.

“I don’t believe you”

These four words became life changing for both Johnny Cash and Sam Philips (played by Joaquin Phoenix and Dallas Roberts, respectfully). They comprised the producer’s total response to why he didn’t like Johnny’s initial performance, which he interrupted after about a minute into the song.

When Johnny laments “You didn’t let us bring it home”, Sam gives it to him straight.

Sam asks Johnny if he had only one song to sing, one song that would sum up his life, what he meant to the world, would it be that song? . . . or would he choose something different? Something that he felt, something that was real. He reminded Johnny it was about believing in himself.

Kick it to the Chorus: First Impressions are not about bringing it home, that should be your starting point.

Then trust: trust yourself to feel, trust yourself to express, trust yourself to craft an experience that is unique, memorable, and personal.

When faced with a moment of truth, those words acted as a creative compass for Johnny, where due North pointed out from his soul, and straight into our hearts.

The next song he chose to sing was ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ . . . and the rest is rock and roll.

Closing the Gap

For my circle of friends growing up in the small border community of Naco, Arizona, the Holy Trinity consisted of the Father, the Son, and Carlos Santana.

Such reverence, typically reserved for the Holy Santos that peppered front yards across the community, was a result not only of his musical greatness, but of a shared cultural belief in the power of the human spirit.

While Carlos and his band toured the Southwest quite frequently, something had always prevented me from seeing him in concert. That was about to change . . .

Fast-forward to a time when Anna and I were running our restaurant in Tucson, Arizona. We had tickets to see Santana at the Pima County Fairgrounds, an open-air venue. The concert was scheduled for late afternoon, with no opening or accompanying act. Just the way I had dreamed.

After a quick bite and cold beverage at Tucson McGraw’s Cantina, we headed south across town for the show. The stage was set facing west, the golden glow of the setting sun softly illuminating the stage. To say I was filled with anticipation would be an extreme understatement.

Suddenly, the curtain came down. Musicians who had been performing sound checks now took their places for the show. Without fanfare, pyrotechnics, or jumbotron technology, a voice came over the loudspeaker and announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Santana!”

And there he was . . . walking on-stage dressed in super comfortable clothing, a colorful bandana wrapped around his head. He thanked everyone for coming and introduced the first song as a tribute to Our Mother Earth. Perfect.

Someone counted off and then it was “On”. That first song had about 45 seconds of lyrics before the band blasted into an instrumental, featuring drums, timbales, congas, and of course, one of Carlos’ signature mind-altering guitar solos.

I was in tears . . . Carlos and his talented musicians had just closed the gap on a lifetime of expectations.

Some could say, “Tall Tim, you just described the same emotions every teen, pre-teen, and ‘tween goes through when they see their favorite group in concert”.

Which is true . . . but I am a mature adult. Well, the mature part gets called into question on occasion.

I know what to expect, and why. I know the difference between “desire” and “aspire”. I was not crying in pursuit of an emotionally unreachable objective . . . I was in tears because a piece of me had come home.

Kick it to the Chorus: Notice how the arbitrary assignment of a seven second timeframe has zero value when you consider the investment in this experience.     

The memory of Santana’s entrance on stage has influenced my approach to speaking and teaching ever since. His quiet, solid demeanor portrayed a level of self-confidence that, while forged in part through experience, was generated from deep within. The passion for his craft, the gift that was his to share through a simple guitar, was genuine and heartfelt, seamless in its execution.

Carlos would never know how I felt about his music. That’s our lesson . . . he comes prepared, assuming quite correctly that everyone in the audience has come to hear him play. Whether for the first time, or twentieth time, he loves what he does and will not let them down.

By the way, Anna was in tears, too.

A White House Elevator Pitch

We close out our trilogy today with the supremely gifted, uber-talented Lin-Manuel Miranda.

By now many of us have tuned into the background story of “Hamilton”, the Broadway musical that brought a mélange of rap, hip-hop, R&B, pop, soul, and . . . history . . . to the bright lights of the Big Stage. It has garnered nearly every award and acclaim imaginable for the creative genius, who is said to have changed forever the landscape of musical theatre.

There was a lot riding on an impromptu moment, the “Elevator Pitch” for Hamilton as it has been described, which occurred at the White House, with the President and First Lady in attendance.

An Evening of Poetry, Music, & the Spoken Word happened to be the event on May 12, 2009.

Lin-Manuel was already established as a multi-talented performer. His appearance at that event would certainly not be his first VVVIP rodeo.

He described in an interview with CBS Sunday Morning, that he had been working for some time on material that would eventually become Hamilton. He had not performed that material for anyone beyond his wife and pianist.

Suddenly, acting in that moment, he asked the First Lady if he could perform a song he had been working on, a rap song about Alexander Hamilton. She approved. Courage.

Carpe Diem doesn’t do it justice.  He was seeking a response for the material from that specific audience, for as he described “these were the people who would ‘get’ it.” If it were a concept considered too far out there, this would be his opportunity to receive that feedback.

Lin-Manuel admits being more nervous than anytime before, which can be a natural side-effect when you are both creating and changing pop culture. But once he started singing the lyrics, once he tapped deep into the essence of what his story would be about, what he was creating, the audience responded.

We know there would be several years of work until a finished product emerged.

Kick it to the Chorus: Consider what was at stake in that First Impression. Anything short of genuine, heartfelt passion and expression, and one of the most influential pieces of music in the history of theatre would have gone to the bin.

Musicians share a common belief that “you do not have to hit every note, you have to hit every emotion”. When you watch the video of that performance, it is far from the polished product we’re used to from Lin-Manuel.

But look into his eyes . . . he’s dialed in. There could have been 2000 people in the room, or none. He was communicating from within, taking whoever wanted to come along on the ride of a lifetime. Probably safe to say not everyone “got” the message behind the music.

What they got was enough meaning from the performance to inspire confidence in Lin-Manuel, which was all he really needed.

Liner Notes

Each of these artists has changed the way we listen to and feel the meaning of music. While two of the stories featured the performer, and one featured the listener, they all feature a Moment of Truth.

The call moving forward is to recognize what is at stake in our next First Impression, and every one that follows.

Trust your Naive Thoughts, your instinct. It worked in my favor when applying for the Pastry Chef position with Marriott. I had invested emotionally in the prospect of being part of a new hotel’s Opening Team. What I had failed to invest in over time was a picture portfolio of my work.

That’s when instinct took over. I decided to bring a sample to my interview, a now infamous three layered chocolate cake with a butterfly on top. With sincere and genuine humility, I wanted to communicate to those leaders I was ready to join the team. I was hired, not for the Pastry Chef position, but for another role with the Culinary Team. Had I not worn my heart on the sleeve of my Chef’s coat, I may not have been hired at all.

At the end of the day, I didn’t need seven seconds. I was already there.

The same with Johnny Cash, who came in with no intention of performing one of his own original songs, or Lin-Manuel Miranda, who admittedly thought of performing his sample during the live program.

Learn to appreciate and understand what ultimately matters most to you and apply that to what matters most to your audience, guest, client, user.

Bring your best every time, because seven seconds goes by in a flash, flash, flash.

Thank you, you have been a lovely audience for today’s Tall Tim Talks!

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