Mark Powell considers the influence of numerology in delivering an effective presentation.
I’ve just spent the last week teaching presentation skills to a fervent numerologist. For those unfamiliar with this particular branch of New Age nincompoopery, it’s the belief that numbers have a mystical significance that affects our lives. Yes, quite. The trouble is it almost made sense.
In numerological circles, she explained, zero is the absolute. In presentation terms, this would be to say nothing at all, to let them wait. Silence, I agreed, can be dynamite. And it works in any language.
One, she said is the assertive individual. The lesson for presenters, I offered, would be to tell it like it is. "Change! That’s what I’m here to talk about". Straight to business, no messing. And no denying its effectiveness.
Two, logically enough, signifies balance. In a speech that could be simple repetition. Worked for 007. "Bond. James Bond". It could also be a contrast ("It’s not a question of time, but a question of money") or answering your own rhetorical question ("So, where do we go from here? I’ll tell you").
How about three? Three, she told me, represents communication itself and, indeed, many famous mottos follow the rule of three: "veni, vidi, vici", "blood, sweat and tears", "sex, drugs and rock 'n’ roll". Grouping points in threes is a classic rhetorical technique, but it’s predictable.
So let’s try four, she suggested. Four’s creativity, the surprise, the joke, the twist in the tail: "liberté, égalité, fraternité… chardonnay!" Four hits you when you least expect it, like Coke chief Roberto Goizueta when he said, "A billion hours ago, human life appeared on earth. A billion minutes ago, Christianity emerged. A billion seconds ago, the Beatles changed music forever… A billion Coca-Colas ago, was yesterday morning."
Is it me or have we just entered … the Twilight Zone?