Rethinking Your Presentation Skills: The 6.5 Second Rule

While numbers are thought of as the universal language of business, most of us don’t use them in our daily communications unless we are calculating costs or analyzing data. Numbers, when used well, can make a strong case for any presentation.

The three-minute elevator pitch has been used by many of us, as a sort of benchmark to increase the chance that you can hold a person’s attention in a fluid environment. Based on a recent study conducted by Draftcb, consumers give marketers approximately 6.5 seconds from the time they engage “lean in” to a message, to the point where they make a decision. Assuming this research is accurate, it’s likely due in part to the shorter attention span brought on by our dependency on the internet.

The use of numbers can help condense a presentation into an effective and concise one. For example, “Apple Surpasses Microsoft To Become The World’s Biggest Tech Company-AAPL market cap 226.838 versus MSFT 225.698.” (Market capitalization represents the public consensus on the value of a company’s equity). Or, “One child dies of malnutrition every 2.3 seconds. One hundred million more people could be fed if Americans reduced their intake of meat by a mere 10%.”

Numbers aren’t just for accountants. When used strategically and creatively, they can tell a story because they’re simple, they demonstrate intelligence, and they show that you have properly researched your subject. Bill Taylor of the Harvard Business Review noted the following about Draftfcb’s 6.5-second research: three simple strategies can help keep your presentation focused on creating an effective message. You should juxtapose: “Put related numbers together to create new information.” Try different contexts: “What’s the social angle? The green angle? Put it in terms of time, or length, or volume.” Turn them over: “2% one way might not be as interesting as 98% the other way.”

Cultural localization (a term often used in the software industry) is also important to understand and consider when creating your presentation. Why? Intellectually it is important because it affects the way we think, work, live, and the choices we make. When communicating, you should make sure your content is relevant. It is politically important in situations where cultural localization shows the person(s) that you understand and respect their environment and traditions. For example, what should be the choice of languages used in developed and developing countries when speaking to businesses, banks, or schools? Should you use Hindi or English in Mumbai, India? In the United States should you use one of the various foreign languages found in several cities?

On a more granular level, there may be traditional interests of local, tribal, and historic cultures that have to be considered, and with the expansion of a multinational, global economy and culture, it will become increasingly important. On the other hand, you may not need to use cultural nuances if you are speaking to well educated, internationally-oriented professionals.

I’ve had the opportunity to deliver many presentations globally over the years, and have found that using numbers (provided you are not overusing them) can impress clients and achieve clarity; cultural localization (adaptation of language, content and design to reflect local cultural sensitivities) can be just as important, and can also maximize your presentations effectiveness.

When it comes to PowerPoint and YouTube presentations, here are few good rules to follow. Presentations Zen’s Garr Reynold’s notes that the “why is where we should start almost all projects, embrace storytelling, keep it simple, concrete, credible, emotional, and have an element of unexpectedness.” The “Girl Effect” ( is an excellent example of a great presentation that uses many of the necessary ingredients to properly communicate a message. If you are promoting a product, recent consumer studies now suggest that within the first five seconds color will play an important role in a positive or negative purchase decision.

That said, no one person is an expert in providing content for your pitches, presentations, and marketing messages because your audience will change and so will your numbers. You will have to continually do your homework to stay on top of the fluid nature of the content. It’s a lot like calling yourself a social media expert-the technology changes so rapidly and media choices are so numerous that your knowledge of social media should be updated regularly.

Before you give your next pitch or presentation, follow these rules and you will be surprised to find that your material will be more impactful, and your audience will remember you and your presentation for the right reasons.

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