What is an "Impact Moment?"

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I’m sitting in a theater packed with people dressed in sleeveless black, shimmering jewelry, and fitted suits. We have watched actions on the stage flow seemingly effortlessly, but our breath is held as we anticipate the upcoming moment. It is the Queen of the Night Aria during the Magic Flute by Mozart. Most in the audience could hum the tune of her famous super-human high notes, but we would be intervals lower or sound like wounded birds.

In cello lessons as a teen, I was taught that this moment is called the “money note:” the one we all pay to come and watch. Some of us have seen divas crack and stumble as they attempt the feat, so we wait intently to see what will happen during this vocal high wire act. If she flows through her theme, this ribbon of melody clear and passionate, we will feel a collective surge of energy and pride not just for her, but for us. “Look at what humanity can do!”

If these few pitches are so powerful, why don’t we all save some production and ticket costs and just watch a lone soloist on the stage singing the single notes we are craving to hear? But of course we don’t and we wouldn’t.

Or from another angle: what if the opera existed with all elements except the “money note” moments? Imagine gorgeous scenery, intricate costumes, accomplished singers, but the content lacked any conflict or resolution. The orchestra played pleasing octaves in major keys while the singers told stories of weeding the garden, dishes being washed, and checkbooks balancing? Perhaps pleasant, but not the thrill we crave.

One more scenario: picture watching the entire Magic Flute Opera in its full spectacle of dramatic and technical glory, but you are the only one in the audience. Definitely memorable, but if an opera goes down in a forest and you are the only one to witness it, what will you be missing if you can’t share the experience with others?

We pay the ticket prices, set aside time, and dress for the evening for the whole experience.

For the Queen of the Night Aria to make its full intended impact on our memories and emotions, we need all three elements:

  • The collective communal experience

  • The build-up of rising action and layered meaning

  • The elevated moments that help us more deeply understand humanity


This is my definition of an impact moment. These experiences that stick with us long after an event has finished where we take away some feeling of awe, expansion, or inspiration.

These days as a communications coach, instead of sitting in cello lessons, I watch and re-watch powerful millions-of-views talks online to discover what elements create this unique connection between speaker and audience.

“A mind once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimensions,” (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.)

I’m endlessly curious about this question: how does one individual’s presentation tug so strongly on us that our senses are alerted and we are forever stretched to hold these new ideas and experiences?

What extraordinary and impactful moments have you experienced? What created them?


Margaret Watts Romney