You only have 10 seconds to show you’re a somebody

The incredible, inescapable, unique essence of you

The moment two humans lay eyes on each other has awesome potency. The first sight of you is a brilliant holograph. It burns its way into your new acquaintance’s eyes and can stay emblazoned in his or her memory forever.

Artists are sometimes able to capture this quicksilver, fleeting emotional response. I have a friend, Robert Grossman, an accomplished caricature artist who draws regularly for Forbes, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone and other popular North American publications. Bob has a unique gift for capturing not only the physical appearance of his subjects, but zeroing in on the essence of their personalities. The bodies and souls of hundreds of luminaries radiate from his sketch pad. One glance at his caricatures of famous people and you can see, for instance, the insecure arrogance of Madonna, the imperiousness of Newt Gingrich, the bitchiness of Leona Helmsley.

Sometimes at a party, Bob will do a quick sketch on a cocktail napkin of a guest. Hovering over Bob’s shoulder, the onlookers gasp as they watch their friend’s image and essence materialize before their eyes. When he’s finished drawing, he puts his pen down and hands the napkin to the subject. Often a puzzled look comes over the subject’s face. He or she usually mumbles some politeness like, ‘Well, that’s great. But it really isn’t me.’

The crowd’s convincing crescendo of ‘Oh yes it is!’ drowns the subject out and squelches any lingering doubt. The confused subject is left to stare back at the world’s view of himself or herself in the napkin.

Once when I was visiting Bob’s studio, I asked him how he could capture people’s personalities so well. He said, ‘It’s simple. I just look at them.’

‘No,’ I asked, ‘How do you capture their personalities? Don’t have to do a lot of research about their lifestyle, their history?’

‘No, I told you, I just look at them.’

‘Huh?’

He went on to explain, ‘Almost every facet of people’s personali- ties is evident from their appearance, cheir posture, the way they move. For instance…’ he said, calling me over to a file where he kept his caricatures of political figures.

‘See,’ Bob said, pointing to angles on various presidential body parts, ‘here’s the boyishness of Clinton,’ showing me his half smile; ‘the awkwardness of George Bush,’ pointing to his shoulder angle; ‘the charm of Reagan,’ putting his finger on the ex-president’s smiling eyes; ‘the shiftiness of Nixon,’ pointing to the furtive tilt of his head. Digging a little deeper into his file, he pulled out Franklin Delano Roosevelt and, pointing to the nose high in the air, ‘Here’s the pride of FDR.’ It’s all in the face and the body.

First impressions are indelible. Why? Because in our fast-paced information-overload world of multiple stimuli bombarding us every second, people’s heads are spinning. They must form quick judgments to make sense of the world and get on with what they have to do. So, whenever people meet you, they take an instant mental snapshot. That image of you becomes the data they deal with for a very long time.

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