Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Tell it better: What if you only have six seconds for that story?

I'm always telling the speakers I coach to slow down--ask anybody backstage at TEDMED, or quiz my coaching clients. But a recent disclosure over the summer may have many storytellers thinking they need to speed up.

At the Cannes Lions advertising festival back in June, New York Times reporter Jim Rutenberg came away with an insight to make any storyteller pause: You really only have six seconds to tell your story. Here's how he described it:
A clarifying moment for me came Tuesday when Fox’s president of ad revenue, Joe Marchese, joined YouTube executives at Google’s pop­up beach club here to announce that Fox would heed YouTube’s call to reduce the length of commercials to six seconds from the standard 30.  
“What’s really scarce is attention,” and people are being more selective with it, the YouTube managing director Debbie Weinstein told reporters. Six seconds, her colleague Tara Walpert Levy said, was “just short enough and yet long enough” to get a story told.
Advertising often plays the role of bellwether for storytelling, since--as Rutenberg notes--advertisers are quick to stop paying for ads if they feel no one's watching them. And that's what is happening with the 30-second variety.

Before storytellers yelp too much, we've been moving in this direction for some time. Back in 2011, the "modern" soundbite in media interviews shrank to nine seconds, and on The Eloquent Woman blog, I recently wrote about trends in shorter talks, starting with two-minute talks at TEDMED, the popularity of the five-minute talk, and TED's consideration of a shorter-than-18-minute top limit. Those short limits to attention also are why TED talks "jump right in" to the story at the start--why waste time? Limiting the number of words in a story severely--say, to six words--has been a longtime, if small, trend, inspired by Ernest Hemingway. And if you use my rule of thumb of 120 words per minute, six seconds yields 12 words, a veritable bonanza.

You don't have to wonder what that six-second story looks like. YouTube challenged advertisers earlier this year to make some six-second ads, and the results are here, along with the producers' tips.

You may not be making ads, but that shorter attention span--and the selectivity of your audience in how they spend it--is worth *your* attention, communicators. How are you asking your audiences to spend that precious commodity?

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Casey Marshall)

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