We are often told you don’t get a second chance at making a first impression. Those first impressions brand themselves in our memories. We recall them every time your name is mentioned or your work passes our eyes. By the time you get to make a second impression, we may have recalled the first impression a dozen or more times, making it difficult to bump it aside for a different impression to take root.
Bad impressions imbed themselves deeper than good impressions—for the most part. This means if you made a bad impression the first time, you’ll have a mountain to climb to mend the fence.
Obviously, good impressions are important in our personal lives, but they are vital in our professional lives. They can make or break our business (which is gaining a reading audience), so it’s important to pay attention to your actions and words when in public, particularly if you’re in the company of readers and writers.
The flip side of that is we are always judging the impressions of others, both new and old acquaintances. We may not consciously do this, but we do it because it’s our nature. We use our morals and opinions to apply that judgement. So while something you did was great in the eyes of one person, it might not be so hot in the eyes of another.
It’s a tough road, but one we travel every day.
I was reminded of first and lasting impressions over the weekend when I attended several events associated with the Canadian Country Music Awards (CCMA) held in Halifax, NS. This was my first CCMA show, so my mind was wide open to what may or may not happen.
I had an inkling there were going to be a few stars hanging out, and perhaps I might get to meet one or two. Although I love music, I haven’t listened to the radio a lot lately (just CDs), so I’m slightly out of touch with the more recent stars on the scene. But my kids are tuned in, and they had CDs by stars I couldn’t identify. They were pumped to attend FanFest because their favourites were going to be there.
The 20 or so performances at FanFest were spot on. Excellent. Everyone sounded as good if not better than on radio and CD (Note: High Valley is one band you need to see live; they are much better in person than on the radio). The artists talked a bit on stage before and sometimes after they sang. This was their first opportunity to give an impression.
Immediately after they performed, artists went to the fan ‘stage’ where they met fans, signed autographs and had pictures taken. It was a little chaotic, to say the least. Imagine a room as large as a hockey arena dimmed to have the attention of the crowd drawn to a small stage at one end. Colourful lights flashed from the stage across the crowd while large speakers pumped out the country. A few thousand people, bopped to the music, sang and hollered when they heard something they liked.
The other end, still dimly lit, held a few vendors.
In the middle and off to the side of all the noise and lights were two line-ups to meet the stars. Each one easily contained a hundred or more people. Although impossible to see everyone, the stars did their best to accommodate their eager fans. This was their second opportunity to give an impression.
While everyone was polite—it is the Canadian way—and accommodating, there were a few stars that went that extra mile. Thankfully, three of them were the artists my children admired.
We stood in the line to meet Dean Brody (a favourite of all of us) and Brett Kissel (a singer I knew nothing about but recognised his songs when I heard him perform them on stage). After twenty minutes, we learned we were in the wrong line up; it was for a female singer who had yet to arrive on the ‘fan stage’. The gate for Kissel had been closed, leaving my twelve-year-old son looking up at me with pleading eyes. At that moment, we thought we wouldn’t get to see anyone we really wanted to see.
Then I spied an empty spot along the fence where Kissel would exit the meet and greet area. There were only a few people there, along with security. I told my son to go there and wait, and I sent my daughter off to find the Dean Brody line.
While my son stood waiting, he talked to the security guard. The man then went and told Kissel’s agent about the ‘little boy by the gate who really wanted to meet him”. Apparently the agent had wanted to close the gate earlier, but Kissel insisted on leaving it open; he wanted to see as many fans as he could. Fast forward twenty minutes, and the final person in the actual line up got their autograph and picture taken with the singer.
Throughout it all, the young man (he’s 24) was polite and didn’t rush his fans. When it was my son’s turn, he shook his hand and asked him his name. He signed the CD cover my son owned and his cap. Then he posed for a picture.
I thanked him for his time, and we cleared out to make way for a few others who were squeaking in past the closed gate. [And a big thank you to the security guard; my son pointed you out several times, saying, “That’s the guy who got me in to see Brett Kissel.”]
I left with a very positive second impression (the first his stage performance) of this man that made me want to take a second listen to his music. I’d have no problem buying future CDs for my son. (PS: I liked his performance and attitude so much, I bought tickets to the show he’s giving at the Casino. Good impressions are how one grows their fan base.)
I found my daughter and discovered she was having a similar experience in the Dean Brody line; there were so many people, we thought it impossible for her to actually get to the front to meet him. Fortunately, we were in a similar position—near the exit fence—so when he walked by, she held out her poster and a marker for him to sign it.
He stopped, she explained about the 4-H poster she had [She had contacted him in 2014, looking for an inspirational quote because he was in 4-H in his youth; he gave one, and we were all surprised he took the time to do this.], he appeared intent on listening over the noise, then his expression changed; he remembered. He signed the poster and posed for a picture.
Second impression: check! Actually, this man would have had to be down-right rude to ruin the impressions I already have of him through his music. I’ve been listening to him for more than six years. The first song that really made me sit up and take notice was “Brothers” (Brothers video on YouTube). To this day, I can’t listen to the song without a tear creeping in the corner of my eye.
His songs tell a story, entertain, and they get my feet tapping and my brain thinking. They are clean, simple, down to earth and singable. Brody hasn’t given in to the craze of many young male singers in the States who sing about girls in tight blue jeans, short shorts and tank tops who have tattoos playing peek-a-boo in the small of their back and who sip on beer. These girls shake their money-makers on tailgates or in headlights, all the while drooling over the guy and his truck and think about making out in a corn field – heard one, you’ve heard ‘em all.
As long as Brody stays on the path he’s on, I’ll be buying his CDs, telling others about his music and blasting it from my truck radio for a long time to come.
The next performance was by Tim Hicks. Again, my kids love this guy’s songs. This time, we were prepared, and got in the line quickly. My son, then my daughter got autographs and pics with him. Then—as planned by us but not Hicks—my son quickly slid in beside Hicks again, so I could get a photo of all three of them together.
Hicks was surprised, but said, “Okay, bud. Get in here.” Big laughing smiles, snap, we thanked him and moved out of the way for the next fan.
Second Impression: check! Hicks was a good-spirited, approachable singer whose CDs are welcome in my house. Actually I’m playing his right now, the one he signed for my daughter.
The next opportunity we had to meet the stars of the CCMA was at the green carpet on Sunday night, just before the awards show. Brody, Kissel and Hicks didn’t disappoint. They stopped to sign dozens of signatures and take dozens of selfies with fans. I think it took Brody the longest to walk the few hundred feet from the truck to the doors (about an hour).
Many other stars stopped and graciously made their fans feel special too—Johnny Reid, Paul Brandt, Emerson Drive, Thomas Rhett (an international guest who reminded me of a young John Cougar because of his dance moves on stage), Wes Mack, High Valley and the list goes on—in the cool evening drizzle.
And then there were a few others who thought perhaps it was a race and walked by almost everyone. One particular group—I won’t mention the name, so I won’t influence your impression of them—gave a poor first impression. This was their first time in Halifax, and one would think they would meet fans after coming all this way. Not so. I’m sure more than one of their fans was disappointed after standing in the drizzle for an hour, waiting to get a selfie with them. One guy in the band did stop for a few, but I think the other guy stopped for no one.
To add to their poor impression, they demanded a big pyrotechnic show (the other stars needed none or only a little) and the main singer grabbed his crotch throughout most of the performance.
That might be acceptable in others genres, but you don’t do that in country music; country folks know how stupid it looks. I’d say he had on tight underwear, but that’s no excuse. If he wasn’t holding himself, he was reaching for it. He looked like a horny, pathetic jerk with only one thing on his mind.
Would I pay money to see these guys in concert and watch that man grab his junk for two hours? Nope. Would I buy their CDs? Nope. Will I brag them up to others? Nope.
Did these guys even hang around to meet the fans after the awards show was over? They didn’t bother. Others did though, including Dean Brody (and after being the photographer for my kids all weekend, I finally got to be in a pic with him).
Impressions are not something to be taken lightly. Often, bad impressions are shared more than good impressions, so while you think you are disappointing only the person you’re with, that one person may tell dozens of people.
Think about this when you are at your next writing event or book launch. Will you take time to answer questions from new writers who are eager to learn the craft? Will you be polite when a peer writer has a question or request? What impressions are you imparting on social media? Will you go the extra mile to greet readers and give them a few minutes of your time?
It might mean a few extra minutes standing in misty rain after an exhausting week of performances and engagements, but when it’s all said and done, it’s looking back and knowing you grabbed that opportunity because it can never be redone.
Links to official websites and Facebook pages of those in pictures.