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David Rosenthal

Did you know that as I write this there are deadly vipers living in your closet? Have I grabbed your attention yet? If not, guess what? You’ve probably moved onto something else by now. In this ever busier and more demanding world we live in today, the old 3 second rule has now become the 1.5-second rule. For those of you who have never heard of the 3-second rule I will now bring you up to speed, no pun intended.

First of all, 3 seconds is not a long time in the big scheme of things, but it’s definitely long enough to make an impression. A number of marketing studies involving commercials for both radio and TV back in the early 90s established that a listener’s attention span hinged upon their initial interest in the first 3 seconds. If the voice, sounds, or images engaged the listener in the first 3 seconds they were apt to listen to or watch the whole commercial. If, however, for whatever reason that commercial did not grab them in that short amount of time, more than likely they would change the channel or move onto something else.

Fast forward to now. Those 3 seconds have now become 1.5 seconds. People’s attention spans have just grown shorter, their impatience has become more judgmental, and they have become more demanding of their time, so we as voiceover artists have to make our first few words of an audition count more than ever.

There’s a strange kind of beauty in this demand, however, for if I can get the general tenor of a script correct in those 1.5 seconds, then the rest of the script just flows, it all comes together, it’s happening. It’s as if the energy and the spirit and the attitude that you come in with in those first 1.5 seconds carries the rest of the copy.

A number of my voiceover friends who are also making money in this business are quite aware of this fact. They know you have to hit the ground running. They know that there is no time to “hit your stride”: it’s now or never.

Obviously, it’s extremely important to get those first 1.5 seconds humming with energy and attitude. So while I concentrate on the idea and feeling of the whole script, my concentration is even more focused on that first sentence or two, because I know that if I get it right from the top, the rest will follow.

What do I do to make sure that those first words out of my mouth have the right spirit, the right energy, and the right style for the script? Well, once I get a sense of what that script needs, what it is looking for, I make sure that the first sentence or two is infused with the energy of the whole piece. It’s like I’m letting the listener know what the whole script is going to be about in the first sentence. If a script is written well, then that makes your job much easier. They’ve kind of written it in there for you. The scriptwriter’s coming from the same place you are. But when the script isn’t written well, and we all know that can happen, it’s still your job to make sure that first sentence introduces the importance and the attitude of the rest of the script.

So read the whole script through. Really understand what that script is about. Get the attitude of that piece of copy in your body and in your imagination, and then let that first one and a half seconds be a microcosm of the whole script. If it’s asking for elegance and style, give it to them. If it’s asking for playful cynicism and sarcasm, give it to them. If it’s asking for pride and assurance, the fact that they’re in good hands, give it to them. Whatever it is, do not wait to make your point because the sooner you make it, and make it well, the sooner that casting director or producer or agent will know that you are aware of the 1.5 second rule. And they will like you for it. If you don’t do it in those first 1.5 seconds, that casting director/ producer/ agent may have already changed the channel on you. Once the recording light is on, so are you my friends.

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