You have 3 seconds to 5 minutes to get people to like you. But do people like you enough…?

The 5 minute rule. “The first 5 minutes of your presentation is the time when your audience decides if they want to continue listening to you or not. Yet, in many presentations, this time is totally wasted.”

Some research in human behavior states: “… it takes just three seconds for someone to determine whether they like you and want to do business with you.” This is based on psychology studies with multiple variants.

This means you have anywhere from 3 seconds to 5 minutes for a person to decide if they want to listen to you or not.

This is considered true when the point of a presentation is to imprint new ideas or change the ideas of the audience. In any situation when you are asking the audience to change how they are thinking about a topic, you are asking them to trust the information that you are giving them and to believe you. Getting buy-in is huge and there are tactics that are focused on these tactics. Be it a sales pitch, or learning and development instruction, the first 5 minutes of your presentation in an information/persuasion context are critical. The reason for this is our primitive mind. This is the moment when the audience will use all of their mental filters, built over a lifetime, to decide whether or not they trust you. If they trust you, they will listen to what you have to say.

This new virtual face-to-face, has caused a deterioration of the old adage of “Dress for Success”. In 2020, the year of “Sweatpants & Hoodies”, many have taken to more casual presentation styles.

I am also an Adjunct Professor at a local college. I had a request from a colleague of mine to help sort through 400+ lecture videos. These lectures were last-minute emergency virtual training’s that were thrown together to fill the need when Covid hit. The focus was to help determine some key indicators as to why some of these classes that once had historic passing grades, suddenly had huge fail rates, and others that were normally very difficult, had higher scores. Basically, I was asked to help find the needle in the virtual haystack. Or even better, the virtual “Holy Grail” of education.

I asked for a spreadsheet of the courses with the last 5 years of grades, attendance, dropouts, fails, and instructors’ demographic/information (male, female, age, etc.) Then, I asked about the technology used (Zoom, Google Meets, YouTube, etc.…) and all the hyperlinks to the lectures. I was just helping out. After all, this wasn’t a doctoral thesis, just a quick insight as to what my colleague might be able to research further and apply for grants for future research. Maybe in 5 to 10 years, there might be an answer. So one weekend I took on this preliminary research.

First, I sorted all the data by instructional demographic information to see if there were correlations with these groupings. I found nothing.

Then I grouped all of the courses that had changes of 5% or more together. These were really the courses that we needed to review. Of 400+ courses there were 215 courses that fell into this “change” field. The courses having no change were courses that were either still live with limited enrollment, or were virtual for the last 5 years and were taught online without lectures. They still had Zoom meetings but were more focused on study groups rather than formal lectures.

Once I had a list of all changes of 5% or more, I grouped them by department. Nothing really jumped out. Then I grouped them together by the courses that were historically far more difficult, but now, virtual students were having more success. This presented my first insight.

At first, I wanted to see if the online exams were hackable by Inspecting Elements. It’s an old trick but still a valid route to accessing the correct answers for exams. But these courses were embedded inside of the LMS (Learning Management System) and had the Inspect Elements disabled. I checked a few other possibilities and after ruling out technical avenues that could account for students’ improvements, I decided to look at the delivery of the course material.

They used Zoom and recorded the lectures, uploading these recordings into the LMS. The students had access to the LMS for studying. The instructor was not visible on the screen. These courses were science classes and the department had determined that information was very important. The instructors would lecture over the shared computer screens that were displaying the demonstration. This was huge, because the students had no distractions. I asked my colleague to get the statistical information from the LMS. This showed the students had a high number of views, which correlated to the grades. The more views, the higher the grade. This information supports many previous research studies. These science courses totaled 7 of the 215, leaving me with 208 courses to try to identify.

As interesting as it was, it didn’t answer the question as to why the dramatic change between similar courses. Some courses that historically were not difficult had an unusually drop out rate and others had high success rates.

I then grouped all of the courses by the greatest success rates and filtered out the courses that had no change. This is the group that helped me identify the key. These groups of courses all were Zoom lectures. The instructor presented information to the course. These courses were well prepared. They had full course agendas that matched the syllabus. The instructor’s presentation was superior. The instructor was well dressed, professional and presented the information with PowerPoint and engaging demonstrations. In the course notes, I discovered that this instructor and others with great success had created an instructor’s presentation group and were all practicing these presentations with each other.

I looked at the group with the most dropouts and failures. These courses had the same level of difficulty as the other courses. I ruled out technical issues, such as exams not functioning correctly in Canvas and other issues that could account for high dropouts. ThenI looked at the recorded Zoom lectures. The instructors were dressed in t-shirts and hoodies, had little to no preparation, and were overwhelmingly disorganized. I looked at the course LMS Shell only to find the same level of disorganization.

I then looked at the very first class of all of these courses. After the first 10 minutes, I asked myself a simple yes or no question “Do I trust this person enough to believe what they are saying?”. All of the courses that had a high negative change, meaning that the class had high dropout rates and failures, were all classes in which the presenter was ill-prepared and appeared too casual. When I say “all”, I mean 100% of the 87 courses with a high negative negative change.

I completed the same process with the group of positive changes. For the first 10 minutes of each course, my answer was yes, I trust the instructor. I turned my data and observations over to my colleague for further review.

The result of my findings is this: people don’t listen and learn from people they don’t like. If your audience doesn’t like you, they won’t learn from you, nor will they purchase products or services from you. No matter what environment in which we are presenting information, it is imperative that we are mindful of the audience. Always remember the audience originally came because they desire information, but they won’t come back if no trust is built. At the end of the day, did you build a foundation on which a new relationship can grow?