Visual Storytelling

How to Capture Attention in the First 2 Seconds of a Video

March 3, 2020

This story is embarrassing.

And mildly idiotic. But I’m going to tell you about it anyway because there’s something important we need to talk about today. 

So here it goes.

It’s 3:00 a.m. I’m only 50% awake. Jimmy’s up early so he can go work a demolition at a donut shop (real detail). He woke me up by accident. But now I can’t fall asleep, so I’m up.

I’m sitting at the kitchen table about to sip on a cup of hot water (’cause that’s what you do when you get woken up at 3 in the morning). 

Then time slows down—I can see it happening, but I can’t stop it.

My baggy linen shirt flops over top of the steaming cup of hot water, and as I move slightly, it topples the cup. Over. Onto me. 

“Aaaaarghaaaaaaaaaahhh!!! It’s burning! It’s burning!!”

I go from being barely awake to excruciatingly present. Scalding hot water has soaked my shirt and pants and is burning my skin. I’m hopping around the living room screaming and ripping my clothes off like a wacky cartoon character. 

That cup of scalding hot water really got my attention. 

Hot water is an inelegant way to capture attention.

Hot water is an inelegant way to capture attention.

And that’s what we need to talk about today. Attention. 

When it comes to online filmmaking these days, it might not be enough to tell a good story or make a technically proficient product. What you’re after is your ideal viewer’s attention. 

It’s your job to capture that attention.

There are two things I see a lot of right now online. 

  1. Videos made for Facebook that are designed to capture attention but are horribly ugly and don’t create a valuable/enjoyable experience.

  2. Videos that have not considered their audience’s attention span or interest level whatsoever. 

People used to say that a video had 10 seconds to capture attention. Today, I’d say it’s closer to 2 seconds. 


To that end, here are some tips for capturing the attention of your desired audience within those first few critical seconds:

1. Immediately SHOW how your video is relevant to your audience.

A lot of videos have an ultra-long intro that doesn’t show the audience what it’s about. If your micro film is about parrots, show parrots in the first two seconds. 

You need to show the thing that people are interested in, so they can confirm that “this is for them” and keep watching. No long title cards. No long logo stings. Get straight into the topic visually.

2. Make sure there’s motion in the frame.

The first few seconds of your video need to be active unless you’re using an interview that holds visual cues for your audience. Start your film with footage that is full of motion and that catches the eye. Continuing with our parrot film, you might choose footage of the birds suddenly lifting off into flight. This sudden motion would catch the eye much better than the birds just sitting on a branch.

3. Move the frame.

You can create an intro where the frame is constantly changing. This could either mean using shots where the framing includes motion. Or it can mean using editing techniques to change the way your shots are framed within the edit. 

You might start with a single clip that is shattered into 20 clips all on the screen at the same time. Or maybe you start with one clip and then layer a bunch of clips on top, each slightly smaller than the last one. Or you might crop your clips into long slices, so you have five long pieces on the screen at once, all in motion.

There’s an infinite number of ways you can do this. But it definitely works when it comes to capturing attention quickly as long as the technique you use doesn’t obscure the topic of the video. Remember, your editing always has to suit the story.

If you need some editing inspiration, watch Oceans 11. The editor does an incredible job of layering clips together. 

4. Use the cut.

An easy way to capture attention is to open with ultra short cuts. Instead of using a 2-second shot to open, use 8 quarter second shots. Take key visual moments from your story and use them at the front end of your online film. 

You’re not going to cut the whole video like this. But this opening technique shows elements of the story and helps your viewer decide if your video is for them. 

5. Add animated text.

The key here is the word “add.” You’re simply adding emphasis to already captivating visuals to further confirm to your audience what your film is about. 

6. Capitalize on curiosity.

Is there a shot in your film that would really pique curiosity? There’s something odd or unusual about it. You can use a short piece of that clip to open your film. 

7. Use sound right away.

If someone presses play and then looks away, you need to be capturing their attention with the audio. Don’t start with silence. If you’re using an interview, then let the interview audio begin immediately. No long dramatic silences if your destination is online. 

8. Use emotional footage.

We’re attracted to emotion, whether it’s positive or negative, a more highly-charged emotion is more likely to capture attention than something neutral. When working on your opener, seek out footage that has an emotional charge. 

But wait, can’t I just tell a great story? Isn’t that enough?

Well, no. Telling a good story will hold attention—and yes, it’s vital. But it won’t capture attention. They are two different beasts.

If you don’t have to worry about your online film being viewed on social media, then maybe this won’t matter to you. (I think it still does, btw.) But even if you’re hosting a video on your website, you need to be mindful of your viewers’ time. 

You also need to consider what their interest level is when they find the video. 

You’ll still need to prove to them that this video IS going to add to their life. And you need to do so rather quickly. The demographics of your viewer will affect how ruthless you need to be with this.

While that cup of steaming hot water got my attention quickly and effectively, it was a painful and inelegant way to be woken up.

I then had to go liberally douse myself with a skin salve. It felt like an entirely inappropriate way to be woken up.

That’s not what we’re aiming for with your video. While you want to capture attention in those first two seconds of a video, your opener still has to suit the tempo, feeling, and story of the whole video.

So, your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is this:

Work towards capturing your viewers’ attention in the first 2-seconds without relying on scalding hot water or nudity. 

Today’s To Do

Think about your next video project and consider how you can use one or many of these techniques to better capture your viewers’ attention.

—ABOUT THE AUTHOR—Hey, I’m Colette, a story strategist, filmmaker, and entrepreneur based out of rainy Vancouver. Obsessed with personal development and marketing, you can often find me attempting to read ten books at the same time. Through this website, I help aspiring filmmakers follow their dreams and purpose-driven creatives make more money doing what they love. Join the inbox party: take my free mini course and start building your filmmaking skillset—take your starter filmmaking gear and make the most of it.


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I'm Colette, here to give you a filmmaking skillset boost! 

Welcome! I’m a story strategist, filmmaker, and teacher based out of rainy Vancouver, Canada. My mission is to give you the tools and tactics you need to pursue your filmmaking dreams, so you can start making films this year! No more waiting for the right time.  Join the inbox party: take my free mini-course and start building your filmmaking skillset.


ahoy there!