As social entrepreneurs, we’ve got a story to tell. It’s a story about making the impossible possible, about David beating Goliath, about the triumph of right over wrong. Because we’re living these stories, it seems clear to us that everyone should hear them — that everyone needs to hear them.

Here’s the catch: No one actually has time for stories anymore. And while you may have heard over and over again that you’ve got just 30 seconds to deliver your elevator pitch, the reality is that you have about one-fifth of that.

The political sound bite shrank from over 40 seconds in 1968 to under 10 seconds in 1988. And it’s not just politics that’s had to adapt to shrinking attention spans. Marketers haven’t been spared, either. Brands have gone from leisurely ad jingles to mere 100-character tweets. For reference, that last sentence used up 103 characters and would have taken around six seconds to say out loud (unless you wanted to sound desperately rushed, which you probably wouldn’t).

The political sound bite shrank from over 40 seconds in 1968 to under 10 seconds in 1988.
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This isn’t arbitrary. The messengers have settled on these lengths because, for now, they’re what people are most receptive to.

So there it is. You’ve got six seconds to tell your story, or at least to tell the audience why they should care enough to get to know your story. So before you walk into that pitch with potential investors, get on the phone with that reporter, or send out that e-news to your supporters, boil your pitch down to a six-second sound bite and practice like hell.


This article published in 2014. It has been reposted to inspire further conversation.

About the author

Rajesh Anandan

Rajesh Anandan

Rajesh Anandan is SVP of UNICEF Ventures at UNICEF USA, Co-Creator of Kid Power—the world's first wearable-for-good—and Co-founder of ULTRA Testing, a high performance software testing company that employs individuals on the Autism Spectrum. @UltraRajesh