The Dating Game was a popular American TV show. The concept was simple. Three men tried to win a date with a woman by impressing her with answers to her questions. (Sometimes it was three women trying to win a date with a guy.) There was one catch: the men were hidden from the woman’s view and she knew nothing about them other than the sound of their voices and the answers they gave. The ensuing back and forth was frequently amusing, particularly because neither side was completely sure about the other.
When it comes to “dates” in presentations, uncertainty is anything but funny; it can be frustrating and expensive. I’m speaking about calendar dates. Let’s take today’s date. Growing up in Canada, I was taught to write June 21, 2009. Having lived in Switzerland for the past 11 years, I am now accustomed to the European style: 21 June 2009. Either way, the date is clear. But what if I use only numbers? In the United States, people write 06/21/09 (or 06.21.09 or 06-21-09). In Europe and many other places in the world, they write 21/06/09. Because there are only 12 months, most people would assume that the “21” refers to the day and the “06” refers to the month of June.
However, what about the following date: 11/10/09? It could be 11 October 2009 or 10 November 2009. To complicate matters further, International Standard ISO 8601 (with which the Chinese dating system agrees) follows the order: year-month-day. While the year is usually written with four digits, it is sometimes written with only two. Thus, the example immediately above could also mean 9 October 2011.
Today, the members of our audiences frequently come from all over the world, bringing with them their own cultural biases. Furthermore, copies of our presentations can be whisked around the world with the push of a button. It is crucial that we leave no room for error about dates. The last thing you want is a telephone call from a customer on 11 October asking where the material is when you thought you had another month to get it to him.
The best strategy is to play it safe. On your presentation material, write the month out in full and use four digits for the year. Make the date is obvious.
For more information about date and time conventions around the world, this Wikipedia article is a good place to start, as is this post by Datestamp.org. In the meantime, let’s return to “The Dating Game” from television and end with a flash from the past and these two clips featuring a couple of celebrities in their younger days.